It’s a Cuban tradition that is almost 150 years old and continues to this day. Lectors or Lectores is the name given to these unique individuals; women, very rarely men, whose job it is to read out loud to the cigar rollers in the Cuban cigar factories while the workers produce their island’s gift to the world – the handmade Cuban cigar.
The practice, legend has it, was begun to both cultivate the cigar rollers and to help deal with the potential boredom of rolling tobacco all day.
The readers would sit on an elevated platform or chair in front of the cigar rollers’ tables so that everyone could hear.
Along the way the workers themselves helped to define the industry itself by naming some of Cuba’s top brands after characters from their favorite works that had been read and loved by them.
The famous Montecristo name comes from Alexander Dumas’ classic adventure tale, The Count of Monte Cristo and the Romeo Y Julieta brand is of course from the bard himself, William Shakespeare and his tale of tragic young love – Romeo and Juliet.
In the mid-1860’s when the practice began there was a sound political reason for having an enlightened Cuban workforce: The island at the time was under the colonial thumb of Spain and the readings at times helped to stoke the notions of independence.
These days the tradition is seen more as a cultural adviser position, and an in-house speaker system ensures that everyone can hear that day’s offerings.
Typically the reader starts off the morning by reading the local newspaper, usually either from Cuba or Spain and then after a break, it’s time for a novel.
The books to be read are often chosen by the rollers themselves, and the titles range from the classics to the contemporary, with detectives stories being the most popular. The Lector, coming from the Latin term “one who reads”, is actually more akin to a performer. The stories aren’t so much read as they are dramatized.
I personally like to think that this long-standing custom contributes to enhancing, dare I say imbibing, any hand-rolled Cuban cigar with a sense of passion that is unmatched in the cigar world. And if for only that reason, this practice has my undying gratitude.
© Copyright 2010, Francis Litzinger. All Rights Reserved. For more work from Francis, check out Francis Litzinger’s Goulash Fiction.