Thousands of kilometers may separate China and Cuba but a Chinese tradition is thriving in the Caribbean.
The ancient Chinese art of cultivating miniature trees and landscapes known as Penjing, similar to 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 on the Caribbean island. 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 colorful indigenous flora.
The dwarfed tree art has also provided a source of revenues for many of the nearly two thousand Cubans who devote a lot of their time to this activity.
However, the commercialization of miniature trees starts with their sells 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.
In Havana, you can come across private penjing and bonsai businesses, like a garden owned by Dashiel Martinez, who has cultivated dwarfed plants since he was 13 years old.
Martinez lives on selling bonsai and penjing pieces, which he tries to make available to all Cuban pockets, bearing in mind that the bonsai business is an elitist market.
Martinez has also linked his garden to the local community. Elementary school children come here every week to learn about penjing and bonsai art.
For Cubans, the cultivation is a way to connect with nature… a noble business and an art form to last for generations.