Q & A: Zoe Nocedo Primo, Director of the Museo del Tabac in Havana
Recently we sat down with Zoe Nocedo Primo, the director of the Museum del Tabaco in Havana, Cuba and spoke to her about everything cigar related. We covered everything from Cumpay Segundo’s sombrero, to Cuba’s rich history. This inspiring woman knows every single piece of information there is to know about cigars and we don’t even doubt that she knows the history of all of the cigars for sale on our website and more.
Zoe was a pure delight to be around and a fountain of knowledge. We think she’s doing an admirable job of conserving and promoting tobacco and we spent many moments under her spell as she told us stories upon stories of tobacco and its mystical history.
You're the Director of the Tobacco Museum in Havana, what does this job entail?
There are two main aspects of my job, both as important as the other. One is to represent Cuba and its culture, more particularly tobacco culture which is an expression of art, an expression of social movement throughout history and every thing Cuban. I feel like every aspect of Cuban tobacco is in Cuban history and Cuban life. And secondly, the other side of my role is directly supervised by the official authority that supersedes the historic preservation of Havana and its culture. So in summary I work on both the preservation of history and the promotion of tobacco culture.
What do you think is the most interesting piece of information concerning the history of tobacco?
First, Cuban tobacco is the best quality tobacco in the world and there’s no other country in the world where tobacco has taken such an important role in the development of society as it has in Cuba.
There really is no way of explaining Cuban history without including the history of Cuban tobacco. When you speak about the economy, you simply have to include the effect Cuban tobacco has had on it. When you look at the arts you have to mention the influences that tobacco and tobacco industry had on the production of art. When you talk about social movements like the first revolution against imperialist Spain, for example, you have to take a look at Cuban tobacco and its effects and take note of how it impacted such movements. No part of Cuban social history is not affected by it.
Do you have a favourite artefact/item in the museum?
There are many things in the museum as it is a very vast collection, but there are certain items which have been given to the museum and many items which belonged to an important person which mean a lot to me.
For example, there’s a tobacco case which belonged to a Cuban hero, Juan Gualberto Gómez who in 1895 was a close collaborator to José Marti’s during what would become Cuba’s first War of Independence, against Spain. In addition to this, the museum possesses a plough which belonged to Alejandro Robaina, arguably world’s most famous veguero [tobacco grower], to whom the brand Robaina is dedicated to.
There is also a Hombre del Habano statue which belonged to Mr. Orlando Quiroga who was a famous author and whose books have been translated into many languages including Italian and English, and is very much adored in Cuba. There’s even a Cohiba Cigar that belonged to Arnaldo Tamayo, the first Latin American astronaut to go into space, that he took with him on that space mission and then donated to the Museum.
Possibly most famous of all is Cumpay Segundo’s sombrero, autographed by the music legend himself and Fidel Castro. The sombrero was famously auctioned by Castro during a gala dinner at the Festival del Habano and fetched in excess of $15,000 dollars which was donated to Cuba’s health system.
As I said there are many objects that I’m very connected to and for one reason or another I simply cannot pinpoint one.
Many, if not all of Habanos S.A’s directors have completed the training courses you provide at the museum. Who would you say is the most interesting individual to have ever walked through the museums doors?
I think its unfair to mention just one person in particular. Being a museum, we have hosted and received a number personalities: from the worlds of Habano, politicians, ambassadors… For example, just recently, we were visited by the President of Habanos’ exclusive importer for Mexico, Mr. Max Gutmann, on his third visit to the museum.
Also, recently we dedicated an event to Mr. Heinrich Villiger, head of Fifth Avenue Products Trading GmbH (Exclusive importer of Habanos to Germany, Austria and Poland), where we broadcasted a short documentary about his life, part of which was filmed right there at the Museo. I am very grateful to Mr. Villiger for his invitation to Europe, on three occasions, where we had the opportunity to meet various Cigar Clubs and familiarise with the world of Habanos in Europe. On one of these occasions we found out about the Encuentro Amigos de Partagas en Italia.
Another great friend of the Museum is Simon Chase, of Hunters and Frankau in the UK. Simon has directed most of the Humidor Auctions at the Habanos Festival gala dinner, some of which side by side to Fidel (back when he used to attend the festival). Simon has been to the museum on a couple of occasions. I remember dearly his great contribution to a fantastic conference we held at the museum on the subject of the evolution of Habanos Vitolario (the whole selection of different shapes and sizes of cigars) from 1900 till present. It was really something special.
I could go on forever listing the illustriuous guests that we had the pleasure of hosting but I fear I might be boring everyone to death.
I would, however, like to thank all of you for arranging this wonderful interview and for your contribution in sharing the passion for a product that is so identifiable with and part of Cuban history.
The pleasure was all ours Zoe. A truly privileged experience being able to speak to Zoe Nocedo Primo about our biggest passion and to get an insight into the world of Cuban cigars from an expert in it’s history and culture.If you’ve got any questions about any of our cigars online, feel free to contact us and ask us any questions. We’ll be happy to give any advice or additional information.