February 18, 2008

Exploring Puerto Rico's African Heritage, Part 1: A General History

Slaves from Africa first came to Puerto Rico to replace the shrinking population of Taínos, the indigenous people of the island. Because of European diseases and cruel treatment, Spaniards turned to slavery in order to maintain their profits. Most of the slaves were imported from West Africa, particularly Nigeria. From the Yoruba people the popular Santería religion, combined with Spanish Catholicism, was born (it's much more common in Cuba than in Puerto Rico, however).

Even though freedom could be bought or earned, unlike in the United States, slavery and all of its abuses continued until 1873, mostly for the sake of maintaining the coffee, caña (sugar cane), and tobacco industries. The American Invasion came only about 30 years later, in 1898. Part of America's reasons for keeping self-governance from Puerto Rico was because of the racial composition of the island, which at that time was already quite mixed.

Culturally Puerto Rico owes much to its African heritage. The language has been greatly enriched by the inclusion of words from Yoruba and other languages (if you or your library has a subscription to JSTOR, I highly recommend this article for more information... I'll be talking about it anyways but that article is excellent). African music is the root of the rhythms heard today in all music from the island, including reggaetón and salsa. It's also made a part of food, literature (like Julia de Burgos!), art, and just a general sense of being. I'll be looking at these, and more, over the next few days.

Today African heritage is widely recognized, although sometimes denied because of racism (also to be discussed this week). And while there is an "Afro-Puerto Rican" identity, it is usually sacrificed for the adoption of the general Puerto Rican identity, due to the status situation with the United States. While people with part or full African ancestry can be found all over the island, the cultural center is the town of Loíza.

To be continued tomorrow!


Jose Luis Ocana said...

How to make Puerto Rican coffee

1 / 2 cup water
2 tablespoons coffee
2 ounces boiled milk
1 tablespoon sugar (or to taste)


1. Mix the coffee with water and boil 2 minutes.
2. Strain the coffee in coffee sock.
3. In a cup, combine brewed coffee with milk.
4. Add sugar to taste.

Jose Luis Ocana said...

Good Job speaking Boricua.