Cuba and China may be separated by thousands of miles, but a Chinese tradition is thriving in the struggling Caribbean island.
The ancient Chinese art of cultivating miniature trees and landscapes known as penjing, like bonsai in Japan, is attracting an enthusiastic following in Havana and providing economic opportunities.
The Chinese art of miniature trees, which began at least 1,400 years ago, has many followers in Cuba. An exhibit in Havana´s Chinatown showcases some of the finest local pieces.
Cubans began developing this art in the 1960s, said local expert Jorge Guerra. He noted that penjing and bonsai cultivators here are encouraged by the rich and colourful indigenous flora.
The dwarfed tree art has also provided a source of revenues for many of the 2,000 Cubans who devote a lot of their time to this activity.
However, the commercialisation of miniature trees starts with their sales and extends to post-sale services, said expert Manuel Paniagua who manages a bonsai shop in the heart of Havana’s Chinatown.
“The technical procedure, that is defoliation, branch trimming, transplanting of the tree, all of that post-sale service I do it at the clients’ home the first year following the purchase of the plant, so that they learn how to do it by themselves,” Paniagua explained.
For Cubans, the cultivation is a way to connect with nature, a noble business and an art form to last for generations.