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Lydia Cabrera Papers



Scope and Contents

Biographical Note

Subject Terms

Administrative Information

Detailed Description


Personal Papers

Works and research files


Colonial Cuba materials

Writings by others

Memorabilia and art work

María Teresa Rojas papers

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Lydia Cabrera Papers, 1910-1991 | University of Miami Cuban Heritage Collection

By Final version by Marta Martínez, María Jiménez, and Rahid Chadid; edited by Natalie Baur, 2012.

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Collection Overview

Title: Lydia Cabrera Papers, 1910-1991Add to your cart.View associated digital content.

ID: CHC0339

Creator: Cabrera, Lydia

Extent: 76.0 Boxes

Arrangement: This collection is arranged into eight series: Series 1: Correspondence, circa 1910-1991 Series 2: Personal Papers, 1916-1992 Series 3: Works and Research Files, 1930-1987 Series 4: Photographs, 1901-1991 Series 5: Colonial Cuba, undated, 1559-1940s Series 6: Writings by Others, 1885-1991 Series 7: Memorabilia and Art Work, 1865-1986 Series 8: Teresa María Rojas Papers, 1959-1978

Languages: Spanish;Castilian


The Lydia Cabrera Papers contain the personal and research papers of 20th century Cuban anthropologist, writer, and artist, Lydia Cabrera.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The Lydia Cabrera papers document the life and career of writer and ethnographer Lydia Cabrera, one of the 20th century’s leading writers on Cuban folklore and an internationally known chronicler of Afro-Cuban culture and religion. The materials include correspondence, manuscripts of her works, field notes,interviews, photographs, illustrations, and memorabilia. This collection also contains documentation about the restoration of several colonial buildings in Cuba.

A highlight of the collection are the libretas, or notebooks, collected by Cabrera from Santeria priests and priestesses that document rituals and religious practices of the Afro-Cuban faith. These are found in Series 3 along with her manuscripts and field notes.

Part of this collection has been digitized and is available in the University of Miami Digital Collections online repository.

Biographical Note

Lydia Cabrera was born in Havana, Cuba on May 20, 1899. Her father, Raimundo Cabrera, was a lawyer. He was a member of the pro-independence intellectuals known as the “generation of 1868” and founder of the literary and political magazine Cuba y America. Lydia, an avid reader, was taught at home. She was strongly influenced by her father’s nationalist feelings and cultural background, her sister Emma’s love of art, and her nannies’ African and Afro Cuban stories, language and traditions.

Lydia completed her secondary school without ever attending classes and started auditing college courses. Although she published her first articles in the Diario de la Marina at age eighteen, her first love was painting, and she attended the San Alejandro Academy of Arts for a brief period.

In 1927, Cabrera moved to Paris to study painting and remained in France for eleven years.  Graduating from  L'Ecole du Louvre in 1930, she subsequently studied with Russian exile artist Alexandra Exter. During this time, Lydia began to study Asian cultures and religions, and her research in this area lead to a renewed interest in Afro Cuban culture. Later in her life, Cabrera stated that she “discovered Cuba in the banks of the Seine”.

During short trips to her native country while living in Paris, Cabrera began to make preliminary contacts with the future informants of her ethnology research. Back in Paris, she wrote her first Cuentos Negros. The stories were read at literary gatherings and later published in several reviews such as Cahiers du Sud, Revue de Paris, and Les Nouvelles Littéraires. A French translation by literary critic Francis de Miomandre was published by Gallimard in 1936 as a collection entitled Contes Nègres de Cuba.

Cabrera returned to Cuba in 1938 with the purpose of doing research on the subject of folklore, conscious of the need to preserve this vital element of Cuban culture for posterity. The first Spanish edition of Cuentos negros de Cuba was published in1940 in Havana; a second work of fiction, ¿Por Qué? Cuentos Negros de Cuba, Colección del Chicherekú, was published in 1948.

Cabrera distinguished her work by writing with a new voice and style and positioned herself at the forefront by conducting field research, which required her to spend years gaining the trust of her informants. She traveled within the island conducting interviews, collecting oral histories, recording stories and music, documenting rituals and practices, and cataloging “Africanisms” of Cuban Spanish. The result was El Monte (The Forest or The Wilderness), published in 1954, a formative work on Afro Cuban religions and liturgy.

Cabrera left Cuba as an exile in 1960 and she did not produce any writing for ten years. In 1970, Cabrera published Otán Iyebiyé, Las Piedras Preciosas and in 1971 the third volume of “cuentos negros” Ayapá: Cuentos de Jicotea, followed by other publications. She published one of her most well known works, Anaforuana, about the secret Abakuá society, in 1975. Her writings in exile are considered by some critics to be among her best because of the intellectual and emotional maturity she had achieved. She had become internationally recognized and honored for her contributions to literature, ethnology and anthropology.

She died in Miami on September 19th, 1991. During her long and prolific career Cabrera produced what is considered the most complete and important body of research on Afro Caribbean religions and folklore. She was one of the first to recognize the richness of African culture and its vital contributions to Cuban identity. Her work remains a leading authority of Afro Cuban culture.

Subject/Index Terms

Blacks - Cuba - Folklore
Cabrera, Lydia

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions: This collection is open for research. Box 27A is restricted due to the fragile nature of the originals. Facsimile copies of the materials in that box are available for research use.

Use Restrictions: Literary rights to the works authored by Lydia Cabrera, both published and unpublished, are held by Isabel Castellanos. Requests to publish or display materials from this collection require written permission from the rights owner. Please, contact for more information.

Acquisition Method: Gift of Lydia Cabrera, 1991.  Additional materials were donated in 2006 by Jose de Armas and in 2007 by Isabel Castellanos.

Original/Copies Note: Selected materials from Series 1: Correspondence and Series 2: Photographs of this collection have been digitized. For more information please see

Preferred Citation: Lydia Cabrera Papers, Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries, Coral Gables, Florida

Processing Information: María R. Estorino and Eugenio Alonso, October 2002-January 2003. Retrospectively converted from HTML to EAD XML September, 2008 by Lyn MacCorkle and Kyle Rimkus based on a crosswalk by María Estorino. This collection was to an extent reprocessed by Marta Martínez, María Jiménez, and Rahid Chadid in Spring 2012 to update the container list to correspond with physical holdings.

Finding Aid Revision History: Full container list and edited finding aid added by Natalie Baur, August, 2012.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

[Series 1: Correspondence, 1910-[1991?]],
[Series 2: Personal Papers, 1916-1992, undated],
[Series 3: Works and research files, 1930-1987, undated],
[Series 4: Photographs, 1901-1991, undated],
[Series 5: Colonial Cuba materials, 1559-1940s, undated],
[Series 6: Writings by others, 1885-1991, undated],
[Series 7: Memorabilia and art work, 1865-1986, undated],
[Series 8: María Teresa Rojas papers, 1935-1987, undated],

Series 8: María Teresa Rojas papers, 1935-1987, undatedAdd to your cart.
Series 8 contains materials related to the personal and professional life of María Teresa Rojas, Lydia Cabrera's companion, who also worked with Cabrera on restoration of two colonial buildings in Havana, Cuba. The series consists of correspondence, clippings, personal documents, title documents and memorabilia. It is arranged alphabetically by subject.
Box 74Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Rojas, María Teresa, "Archivo del Protocolo de la Habana", undatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 2: Rojas, María Teresa, business seal, undatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 3: Rojas, María Teresa, certificate of naturalization, 1971Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Rojas, María Teresa,clippings, undated, 1950-1957Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Rojas, María Teresa, coat of arms, 1953Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Rojas, María Teresa,correspondence, undated, 1960-1987Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Rojas, María Teresa, funeral and estate, undated, 1987Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Rojas, María Teresa, legal documents, 1935-1985Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Rojas, María Teresa, memoirs, undatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 10: Rojas, María Teresa, passports, 1956-1983Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Rojas, María Teresa, properties, 1959-1974Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Rojas, María Teresa, Spanish residency, 1973Add to your cart.
Folder 13: Rojas, María Teresa, diploma, 1940Add to your cart.
Folder 14: Rojas, María Teresa, The John Birch Society membership, 1962Add to your cart.

Browse by Series:

[Series 1: Correspondence, 1910-[1991?]],
[Series 2: Personal Papers, 1916-1992, undated],
[Series 3: Works and research files, 1930-1987, undated],
[Series 4: Photographs, 1901-1991, undated],
[Series 5: Colonial Cuba materials, 1559-1940s, undated],
[Series 6: Writings by others, 1885-1991, undated],
[Series 7: Memorabilia and art work, 1865-1986, undated],
[Series 8: María Teresa Rojas papers, 1935-1987, undated],

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