Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta and Sancho Panza – choosing the names of some cigar brands was inspired by works of world literature. By using these names, the factory workers honored particularly popular literary works and those that they often heard read aloud while they were working.
The tradition of reading aloud at cigar factories can be traced back to the year 1865. Not least because of the high rate of illiteracy and the monotony of the work, the readings garnered so much interest that the practice spread in Cuba and far beyond. The lector was paid from the factory workers’ own pockets. But the reading was not always welcome. In order to stave off the emergence of disagreeable thoughts and to prevent unconcentrated work, reading bans were issued, particularly in politically sensitive times.
Today, along with the Dominican Republic, Cuba is the only country in which readers still carry out their work and where their job is considered a respectable profession. Reading aloud is not only seen as a tradition still kept alive and as a way to culturally and politically educate the working class, but is also supposed to animate the rollers and keep them happy.
The workers choose their reading material from works that have been previously checked and approved: material read aloud ranges from The Da Vinci Code to Victor Hugo; from self-help books to historical treatises – and, of course, also the daily news, read out aloud from the Cuban party newspaper.
El Lector. A History of the Cigar Factory Reader.
First University of Texas Press, 2010.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2014. Read more