(Afro-Puerto Rican history)
|Notable Puerto Ricans of African Ancestry|
761,997 - 1,713,862
Throughout the island (more heavily concentrated in coastal east regions of the island)
The history the African people and Puerto Ricans of African descent in Puerto Rico begins with the immigration of African free men called libertos, who accompanied the invading Spanish Conquistadors. The Spaniards enslaved the Taínos (the native inhabitants of the island), and many of them died as a result of Spaniards' oppressive colonization efforts. This presented a problem for Spain's royal government, which relied on slavery to staff their mining and fort-building operations. Spain's 'solution' was to import enslaved West Africans. As a result, the majority of the African peoples who entered Puerto Rico did so as a result of the forced migration of the slave trade, coming from many different societies of the African continent.
When the gold mines in Puerto Rico were declared depleted, the Spanish Crown no longer held Puerto Rico as a high colonial priority. It was used as a garrison to support naval vessels. Africans from British and French possessions in the Caribbean were encouraged to emigrate to Puerto Rico, thereby providing a population base to support the Puerto Rican garrison. The Spanish decree of 1789 allowed the slaves to earn or buy their freedom, however this did little to help their situation. The expansion of sugar cane plantations drove up demand for slaves and their population increased dramatically. Throughout the years, there were many slave revolts in the island. Slaves who were promised their freedom joined the 1868 uprising against Spanish colonial rule in what is known as the "Grito de Lares". On March 22, 1873, slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico. The contributions of ethnic Africans to the music, art, language, and heritage have become instrumental to Puerto Rican culture.
- 1 First Africans in Puerto Rico
- 2 Royal Decree of Graces of 1789
- 3 19th century
- 4 Spanish–American War
- 5 Discrimination
- 6 African influence in Puerto Rican culture
- 7 Current demographics
- 8 Notable Afro-Puerto Ricans
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
First Africans in Puerto Rico
When Ponce de León and the Spaniards arrived on the island of "Borinken" (Puerto Rico), they were greeted by the Cacique Agüeybaná, the supreme leader of the peaceful Taíno tribes on the island. Agüeybaná helped to maintain the peace between the Taíno and the Spaniards. According to historian Ricardo Alegria, the first free black man to set foot on the island in 1509 was Juan Garrido, a conquistador who was part of Juan Ponce de León's entourage. Garrido was born on the West African coast, the son of an African King. In 1508, he joined Juan Ponce de León to explore Puerto Rico and prospect for gold. In 1511, he fought under Ponce de León to repress the Carib and the Taíno, who had joined forces in Puerto Rico in a great revolt against the Spaniards. Garrido went on to join Hernán Cortés in the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Another free black man who accompanied de León was Pedro Mejías. Mejías married a Taíno woman chief (a cacica), by the name of Yuisa. Yuisa was baptized Luisa (hence the name of the town of Loíza), so that she could marry Mejías.
The peace between the Spanish and the Taíno was short-lived. The Spanish took advantage of the Taínos' good faith and enslaved them, forcing them to work in the gold mines and in the construction of forts. Many Taíno died, particularly due to epidemics of smallpox, to which they had no immunity. Other Taínos committed suicide or left the island after the failed Taíno revolt of 1511.
Friar Bartolomé de las Casas, who had accompanied Ponce de León, was outraged at the Spanish treatment of the Taíno. In 1512 he protested at the council of Burgos at the Spanish Court. He fought for the freedom of the natives and was able to secure their rights. The Spanish colonists, fearing the loss of their labor force, also protested before the courts. They complained that they needed manpower to work in the mines, build forts, and supply labor for the thriving sugar cane plantations. As an alternative, Las Casas suggested the importation and use of African slaves. In 1517, the Spanish Crown permitted its subjects to import twelve slaves each, thereby beginning the slave trade in their colonies.
According to historian Luis M. Diaz, the largest contingent of African slaves came from the areas of the present-day Gold Coast, Nigeria, and Dahomey, and the region known as the area of Guineas, together known as the Slave Coast. The vast majority were Yorubas and Igbos, ethnic groups from Nigeria, and Bantus from the Guineas. The number of slaves in Puerto Rico rose from 1,500 in 1530 to 15,000 by 1555. The slaves were stamped with a hot iron on the forehead, a branding which meant that they were brought to the country legally and prevented their kidnapping.
African slaves were sent to work in the gold mines to replace the Taíno, or to work in the fields in the island's ginger and sugar industry. They were allowed to live with their families in a bohio (hut) on the master's land, and were given a patch of land where they could plant and grow vegetables and fruits. Blacks had little or no opportunity for advancement and faced discrimination from the Spaniards. Slaves were educated by their masters and soon learned to speak the master's language, educating their own children in the new language. They enriched the "Puerto Rican Spanish" language by adding words of their own. The Spaniards considered the blacks superior to the Taíno, since the latter were unwilling to assimilate. The slaves, in contrast, had little choice but to adapt to their lives. Many converted (at least nominally) to Christianity; they were baptized by the Catholic Church and were given the surnames of their masters. Many slaves were subject to harsh treatment; and women were subject to sexual abuse because of the power relationships. The majority of the Conquistadors and farmers who settled the island had arrived without women; many of them intermarried with the blacks or Taínos. Their mixed-race descendants formed the first generations of the early Puerto Rican population.
In 1527, the first major slave rebellion occurred in Puerto Rico, as dozen of slaves fought against the colonist in a brief revolt. The few slaves who escaped retreated to the mountains, where they resided as maroons with surviving Taínos. By 1873, slaves had carried out more than twenty revolts, ncluding some of great political importance, such as the Ponce and Vega Baja conspiracies.
By 1570, the colonists found that the gold mines were depleted of the precious metal. After gold mining came to an end on the island, the Spanish Crown bypassed Puerto Rico by moving the western shipping routes to the north. The island became primarily a garrison for those ships that would pass on their way to or from richer colonies. The cultivation of crops such as tobacco, cotton, cocoa, and ginger became the cornerstone of the economy. The cultivation of these crops required little manpower, such that the families did all the farming themselves. The use of slaves was reduced for these crops.
But, major planters increased their cultivation and processing of sugar cane, as demand for sugar was rising internationally. Sugar plantations supplanted mining as Puerto Rico's main industry and kept demand high for African slavery. Spain promoted sugar cane development by granting loans and tax exemptions to the owners of the plantations. They were also given permits to participate in the African slave trade.
To attract more workers, in 1664 Spain offered freedom and land to African people from non-Spanish colonies, such as Jamaica and Saint-Domingue (later Haiti). The immigrants provided a population base to support the Puerto Rican garrison and its forts. Those freedmen who settled the western and southern parts of the island soon adopted the ways and customs of the Spaniards. Some joined the local militia, which fought against the British in the many British attempts to invade the island. The escaped slaves and the freedman who emigrated from the West Indies kept their former master's surnames, which were normally either English or French. Even today some ethnic African Puerto Ricans still carry non-Spanish surnames, proof of their descent from these immigrants.
Royal Decree of Graces of 1789
After 1784, the method of hot branding the slave's forehead was suspended. They were permitted to obtain their freedom under the following circumstances:
- A slave could be freed in a church or outside it, before a judge, by testament or letter in the presence of his master.
- A slave could be freed against his master's will by denouncing a forced rape, by denouncing a counterfeiter, by discovering disloyalty against the king, and by denouncing murder against his master.
- Any slave who received part of his master's estate in his master's will automatically became free.
- If a slave was made a guardian to his master's children, he also was freed.
- If slave parents in Hispanic America had ten children, the whole family went free.
In 1789, the Spanish Crown issued the "Royal Decree of Graces of 1789", which set new rules related to the slave trade and added restrictions to the granting of freedman status. The decree granted its subjects the right to purchase slaves and to participate in the flourishing slave trade in the Caribbean. Later that year a new slave code, also known as El Código Negro (The Black code), was introduced.
Under "El Código Negro," a slave could buy his freedom, in the event that his master was willing to sell, by paying the price sought. Slaves were allowed to earn money during their spare time by working as shoemakers, cleaning clothes, or selling the produce they grew on their own plots of land. Slaves were able to pay for their freedom by installments. They could make payments in installments for a newborn child, not yet baptized, at a cost of half the going price for a baptized child. Many of these freedmen started settlements in the areas which became known as Cangrejos (Santurce), Carolina, Canóvanas, Loíza, and Luquillo. Some became slave owners themselves.
The native-born Puerto Ricans (criollos) who wanted to serve in the regular Spanish army petitioned the Spanish Crown to this effect. In 1741, the Spanish government established the Regimiento Fijo de Puerto Rico. Many of the former slaves, now freemen, joined either the Fijo or the local civil militia. Puerto Ricans of African ancestry played an instrumental role in the defeat of Sir Ralph Abercromby in the British invasion of Puerto Rico in 1797.
From 1790 onwards, the number of slaves more than doubled in Puerto Rico as a result of the radical transformation and expansion of the sugar industry in the island.
Notable Puerto Rican Freedmen
- Rafael Cordero (1790–1868), was a freeman born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He became known as "The Father of Public Education in Puerto Rico". Cordero was a self-educated Puerto Rican who provided free schooling to children regardless of their race. Among the distinguished alumni who attended Cordero's school were future abolitionists Román Baldorioty de Castro, Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, and José Julián Acosta. Cordero proved that racial and economic integration could be possible and accepted in Puerto Rico. In 2004, the Roman Catholic Church, upon the request of San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, began the process of Cordero's beatification. He was not the only one in his family to become an educator. In 1820, his older sister, Celestina Cordero, established the first school for girls in San Juan.
- José Campeche (1751–1809), born free, contributed greatly to the island's culture. Campeche's father Tomás Campeche, was a freed slave born in Puerto Rico, and his mother María Jordán Marqués came from the Canary Islands. Because of this mixed descent, he was classified as a mulatto, a common term during his time meaning of African-European descent. Campeche is the first-known Puerto Rican artist and is considered by many as one of its best. He painted religious themes as well as portraits of governors and other important figures.
- Capt. Miguel Henriquez (c. 1680–17??), was a former pirate who became Puerto Rico's first black military hero by organizing an expeditionary force that defeated the British in the island of Vieques. Capt. Henriques was received as a national hero when he returned the island of Vieques back to the Spanish Empire and Puerto Rico. He was awarded "La Medalla de Oro de la Real Efigie"; and the Spanish Crown named him "Captain of the Seas," awarding him a letter of marque and reprisal which granted him the privileges of a privateer.
Royal Decree of Graces of 1815
The Royal Decree of Graces of 1815 was a legal order approved by the Spanish Crown in the early half of the 19th century to encourage Micol and later Europeans of non-Spanish origin to settle and populate the colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico. The decree encouraged the use of slave labor to revive agriculture and attract new settlers. The new agricultural class immigrating from other countries of Europe used slave labor in large numbers, and cruelty became the order of the day. A series of slave uprisings occurred on the island from the early 1820s until 1868; the last was known as the Grito de Lares.
In July 1821, for instance, the slave Marcos Xiorro, planned and conspired to lead a slave revolt against the sugar plantation owners and the Spanish Colonial government. Although the conspiracy was suppressed, Xiorro achieved legendary status among the slaves, and is part of Puerto Rico's heroic folklore.
The 1834 Royal census of Puerto Rico established that 11% of the population were slaves, 35% were colored freemen (also known as free people of color in French colonies), and 54% were white. In the following decade, the number of the slave population increased more than tenfold to 258,000, the result mostly of increased importation to meet the demand for labor on sugar plantations.
Planters became nervous because of so many slaves and ordered restrictions, particularly on their movements off a plantation. Rose Clemente, a black Puerto Rican columnist, wrote, "Until 1846, Blacks on the island had to carry a notebook (Libreta system) to move around the island, like the passbook system in apartheid South Africa."
By 1850, most of the former Spanish possessions in the Americans had achieved independence. After the successful slave rebellion against the French in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) in 1803, the Spanish Crown became fearful that the "Criollos" (native born) of Puerto Rico and Cuba, her last two remaining possessions, might follow suit. The Spanish government issued the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815 to attract European immigrants from non-Spanish countries to populate the island, believing that these new immigrants would be more loyal to Spain than the mixed-race Criollos. However, they did not expect the new immigrants to racially intermarry, as they did, and to identify completely with their new homeland.
On May 31, 1848, the Governor of Puerto Rico Juan Prim, in fear of an independence or slavery revolt, imposed draconian laws, "El Bando contra La Raza Africana", to control the behavior of all Black Puerto Ricans, slave or free. On September 23, 1868, slaves, who were promised their freedom, participated in the short failed revolt against Spain which became known as "El Grito de Lares" or "The Cry of Lares". Many of the participants were imprisoned or executed.
During this period, Puerto Rico provided a means for people to leave some of the racial restrictions behind: under such laws as Regla del Sacar or Gracias al Sacar, a person of African ancestry could be considered legally white if able to prove they also had ancestors with at least one person per generation in the last four generations who had been legally white. Therefore people of black ancestry with known white lineage became classified as white. This was the opposite of the later "one-drop rule" in the United States. This was imposed in the South after the American Civil War and in the early 20th century. During the 19th century, however, many states had looser constructions of race; in early 19th-century Virginia, for instance, if a person was 7/8 white and free, the individual was considered legally white. Children born to slave mothers were considered slaves, no matter what their ancestry, and many were of mixed heritage.
During the mid-19th century, a committee of abolitionists was formed in Puerto Rico that included many prominent Puerto Ricans. Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances (1827–1898), whose parents were wealthy landowners, believed in the abolition of slavery, and together with fellow Puerto Rican abolitionist Segundo Ruiz Belvis (1829–1867) founded a clandestine organization called "The Secret Abolitionist Society". The objective of the society was to free slave children by the sacrament of baptism. The event, which was also known as "aguas de libertad" (waters of liberty), was carried out at the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria Cathedral in Mayagüez. When the child was baptized, Betances would give money to the parents, which they used to buy the child's freedom from the master.
José Julián Acosta (1827–1891) was a member of a Puerto Rican commission, which included Ramón Emeterio Betances, Segundo Ruiz Belvis, and Francisco Mariano Quiñones (1830–1908). The commission participated in the "Overseas Information Committee" which met in Madrid, Spain. There, Acosta presented the argument for the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico. On November 19, 1872, Román Baldorioty de Castro (1822–1889) together with Luis Padial (1832–1879), Julio Vizcarrondo (1830–1889) and the Spanish Minister of Overseas Affairs, Segismundo Moret (1833–1913), presented a proposal for the abolition of slavery.
On March 22, 1873, the Spanish government approved what became known as the Moret Law, which provided for gradual abolition. This edict granted freedom to slaves over 60 years of age, those belonging to the state, and children born to slaves after September 17, 1868. The Moret Law established the Central Slave Registrar; in 1872 it began gathering the following data on the island's slave population: name, country of origin, present residence, names of parents, sex, marital status, trade, age, physical description, and master's name. This has been an invaluable resource for historians and genealogists.
Abolition of slavery
On March 22, 1873, slavery was "abolished" in Puerto Rico, but with one significant caveat. The slaves were not emancipated; they had to buy their own freedom, at whatever price was set by their previous owners. The law required that the former slaves work for another three years for their former masters, other people interested in their services, or for the "state" in order to pay for some compensation.
The former slaves earned money in a variety of ways: some by trades, for instance as shoemakers, or laundering clothes, or by selling the produce they were allowed to grow, in the small patches of land allotted to them by their former masters. In a sense, they resembled the black sharecroppers of the southern U.S. after the American Civil War, but the latter did not own their land. They simply farmed another's land, for a share of the crops raised. The government created the Protectors Office which was in charge of overseeing the transition. The Protectors Office would pay any difference owed to the former master once the initial contract expired.
The majority of the freed slaves continued to work for their former masters, but as free people, receiving wages for their labor. If the former slave decided not to work for his former master, the Protectors Office would pay the former master 23% of the former slave's estimated value, as a form of compensation.
The freed slaves integrated into Puerto Rico's society. Racism has existed in Puerto Rico, but it is not considered to be as severe as other places in the New World, possibly because of the following factors:
- In the 8th century, nearly all of Spain was conquered (711–718), by the Muslim Moors who had crossed over from North Africa. The first blacks were brought to Spain during Arab domination by North African merchants. By the middle of the 13th century, Christians had reconquered all of the Iberian peninsula. A section of Seville, which once was a Moorish stronghold, was inhabited by thousands of blacks. Blacks became freemen after converting to Christianity and they lived integrated in Spanish society. Black women were highly sought after by Spanish males. Spain's exposure to people of color over the centuries accounted for the positive racial attitudes that prevailed in the New World. Historian Robert Martinez thought it was unsurprising that the first conquistadors intermarried with the native Taíno and later with the African immigrants.
- The Catholic Church played an instrumental role in preserving the human dignity and working for the social integration of the black man in Puerto Rico. The church insisted that every slave be baptized and converted to the Catholic faith. Church doctrine held that master and slave were equal before the eyes of God, and therefore brothers in Christ with a common moral and religious character. Cruel and unusual punishment of slaves was considered a violation of the fifth commandment.
- When the gold mines were declared depleted in 1570 and mining came to an end in Puerto Rico, the majority of the white Spanish settlers left the island to seek their fortunes in the richer colonies such as Mexico; the island became a Spanish garrison. The majority of those who stayed behind were either black or mulattoes (of mixed race). By the time Spain reestablished commercial ties with Puerto Rico, the island had a large multiracial population. After the Spanish Crown issued the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815, it attracted many European immigrants, in effect "whitening" the island into the 1850s. But, the new arrivals also intermarried with native islanders, and added to the multiracial population. They also became identified with the island, rather than simply with the rulers.
After the Spanish–American War of 1898, Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States by way of the Treaty of Paris of 1898. The United States took over control of the island's institutions and political participation by the natives was restricted. One Puerto Rican politician of African descent who distinguished himself during this period was the physician and politician José Celso Barbosa (1857–1921). On July 4, 1899, he founded the pro-statehood Puerto Rican Republican Party and became known as the "Father of the Statehood for Puerto Rico" movement. Another distinguished Puerto Rican of African descent, who in this case was an advocate of Puerto Rico's independence, was Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (1874–1938). He is considered by some to be the "Father of Black History" in the United States, as he amassed an extensive collection in preserving manuscripts and other materials of black Americans. A major study center and collection of the New York Public Library is named for him. He coined the phrase "Afroborincano," meaning African-Puerto Rican.
After the United States Congress approved the Jones Act of 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship. As citizens Puerto Ricans were eligible for the military draft and many were drafted into the armed forces of the United States during World War I, which at that time was segregated. Puerto Ricans of African descent were subject to the discrimination which was rampant in the military and the U.S.
Black Puerto Ricans residing in the mainland United States were assigned to all-black units. Rafael Hernández (1892–1965) and his brother Jesus along with 16 more Puerto Ricans were recruited by Jazz bandleader James Reese Europe to join the United States Army's Orchestra Europe. They were assigned to the 369th Infantry Regiment, an African-American regiment; it gained fame during World War I and was nicknamed "The Harlem Hell Fighters" by the Germans.
The United States also segregated military units in Puerto Rico. Pedro Albizu Campos (1891–1965), who later became the leader of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, held the rank of lieutenant. He founded the "Home Guard" unit of Ponce and was later assigned to the 375th Infantry Regiment, an all-black Puerto Rican regiment, which was stationed in Puerto Rico and never saw combat. Campos later said that the discrimination which he witnessed in the Armed Forces, influenced his political beliefs.
Puerto Ricans of African descent were also discriminated against in sports. Puerto Ricans who were dark-skinned and wanted to play Major League Baseball in the United States, were not allowed to do so. In 1892 organized baseball had codified a color line, barring African-American players, and any player who was dark-skinned, from any country. This, however did not keep ethnic African-Puerto Ricans from playing baseball. In 1928, Emilio "Millito" Navarro traveled to New York City and became the first Puerto Rican to play baseball in the Negro Leagues when he joined the Cuban Stars.  He was later followed by others such as Francisco Coimbre, who also played for the Cuban Stars.
The persistence of these men paved the way for the likes of Baseball Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda, who played in the Major Leagues after the colorline was broken by Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947; they were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for their achievements. Cepeda's father Pedro Cepeda, was denied a shot at the major leagues because of his color. Pedro Cepeda, was one of the greatest players of his generation, the dominant hitter in the Professional Baseball League of Puerto Rico after its founding in 1938. He refused to play in the Negro Leagues due to his abhorrence of the racism endemic to the segregated United States.
Black Puerto Ricans also participated in other sports as international contestants. In 1917, Nero Chen became the first Puerto Rican boxer to gain international recognition when he fought against (Panama) Joe Gan at the "Palace Casino" in New York. In the 1948 Summer Olympics (the XIV Olympics), celebrated in London, boxer Juan Evangelista Venegas made sports history by becoming Puerto Rico's first Olympic medal winner when he beat Belgium's representative, Callenboat, on points for a unanimous decision. He won the bronze medal in boxing in the Bantamweight division. The event was also historical because it was the first time that the island participated as a nation in an international sporting event. It was common for impoverished Puerto Rican to seek boxing as a way to earn an income.
On March 30, 1965, José "Chegui" Torres defeated Willie Pastrano by technical knockout and won the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association light heavyweight championships. He became the third Puerto Rican and the first one of African descent to win a professional world championship.
Among those who exposed the racism and discrimination in the US which Puerto Ricans, especially Black Puerto Ricans were subject to, was Jesús Colón. Colón is considered by many as the "Father of the Nuyorican movement"; he told about his experiences in New York as a Black Puerto Rican in his book Lo que el pueblo me dice--: crónicas de la colonia puertorriqueña en Nueva York (What the people tell me---: Chronicles of the Puerto Rican colony in New York).
These critics say that a majority of Puerto Ricans are racially mixed, but that they do not feel the need to identify as such. They argue that Puerto Ricans tend to assume that they are of Black African, American Indian, and European ancestry and only identify themselves as "mixed" if having parents "appearing" to be of separate "races". Puerto Rico underwent a "whitening" process while under U.S. rule. There was a dramatic change in the numbers of people who were classified as "black" and "white" Puerto Ricans in the 1920 census, as compared to that in 1910. The numbers classified as "Black" declined sharply from one census to another (within 10 years' time). Historians suggest that more Puerto Ricans classified others as white because it was advantageous to do so at that time. In those years, census takers were generally the ones to enter the racial classification; self-identification began to occur in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It may have been that it was popularly thought it would be easier to advance economically and socially with the US if one were "white".
African influence in Puerto Rican culture
The descendants of the former African slaves became instrumental in the development of Puerto Rico's political, economic and cultural structure. They overcame many obstacles and have made their presence felt with their contributions to the island's entertainment, sports, literature and scientific institutions. Their contributions and heritage can still be felt today in Puerto Rico's art, music, cuisine, and religious beliefs in everyday life. In Puerto Rico, March 22 is known as "Abolition Day" and it is a holiday celebrated by those who live in the island.
Many African slaves imported to Cuba and Puerto Rico spoke "Bozal" Spanish, a Creole language that was Spanish-based, with Congolese and Portuguese influence. Although Bozal Spanish became extinct in the nineteenth century, the African influence in the Spanish spoken in the island is still evidence in the many Kongo words that have become a permanent part of Puerto Rican Spanish.
Puerto Rican musical instruments such barriles, drums with stretched animal skin, and Puerto Rican music-dance forms such as Bomba or Plena are likewise rooted in Africa. Bomba represents the strong African influence in Puerto Rico. Bomba is a music, rhythm and dance that was brought by West African slaves to the island of Puerto Rico.
Plena is another form of folkloric music of Puerto Rico of African origin. Plena was brought to Ponce by blacks who immigrated north from the English-speaking islands south of Puerto Rico. Plena is a rhythm that is clearly African and very similar to Calypso, Soca and Dance hall music from Trinidad and Jamaica.
Bomba and Plena were played during the festival of Santiago (St. James), since slaves were not allowed to worship their own gods. Bomba and Plena evolved into countless styles based on the kind of dance intended to be used. These included leró, yubá, cunyá, babú and belén. The slaves celebrated baptisms, weddings, and births with the "bailes de bomba". Slaveowners, for fear of a rebellion, allowed the dances on Sundays. The women dancers would mimic and poke fun at the slave owners. Masks were and still are worn to ward off evil spirits and pirates. One of the most popular masked characters is the "Vejigante" (vey-hee-GANT-eh). The Vejigante is a mischievous character and the main character in the Carnivals of Puerto Rico.
Until 1953, Bomba and Plena were virtually unknown outside Puerto Rico until Puerto Rican musicians Rafael Cortijo (1928–1982), Ismael Rivera (1931–1987) and the El Conjunto Monterrey orchestra introduced Bomba and Plena to the rest of the world. What Rafael Cortijo did with his orchestra was to modernize the Puerto Rican folkloric rhythms with the use of piano, bass, saxophones, trumpets, and other percussion instruments such as timbales, bongos, and replacing the typical barriles (skin covered barrels) with congas.
|You may listen to the "Bomba Puertorriqueña" as performed at the Nuyorican Cafe in Puerto Rico here|
|and to a "Potpourri of Plenas" interpreted by Rene Ramos here.|
Rafael Cepeda (1910–1996), also known as "The Patriarch of Bomba and Plena", was the patriarch of the Cepeda Family. The family is one of the most famous exponents of Puerto Rican folk music, with generations of musicians working to preserve the African heritage in Puerto Rican music. The family is well known for their performances of the bomba and plena folkloric music and are considered by many to be the keepers of those traditional genres.
Sylvia del Villard (1928–1990), was a member of the Afro-Borcua Ballet and participated in the following Afro-Puerto Rican productions, Palesiana y Aquelarre and Palesianisima. In 1968, she founded the Afro-Boricua El Coqui Theater, which was recognized by the Panamerican Association of the New World Festival as the most important authority of Black Puerto Rican culture. The Theater group were given a contract which permitted them to present their act in other countries and in various universities in the United States. In 1981, she became the first and only director of the office of the Afro-Puerto Rican affairs of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. She was known to be an outspoken activist who fought for the equal rights of the Black Puerto Rican artist.
Nydia Rios de Colon, a contributor to the Smithsonian Folklife Cookbook who also offers culinary seminars through the Puerto Rican Cultural Institute, writes about Puerto Rican cuisine:
"Puerto Rican cuisine also has a strong African influence. The melange of flavors that make up the typical Puerto Rican cuisine counts with the African touch. Pasteles, small bundles of meat stuffed into a dough made of grated green banana (sometimes combined with pumpkin, potatoes, plantains, or yautía) and wrapped in plantain leaves, were devised by African women on the island and based upon food products that originated in Africa."—Nydia Rios de Colon, Arts Publications
"The salmorejo, a local land crab creation, resembles Southern cooking in the United States with its spicing. The mofongo, one of the island's best-known dishes, is a ball of fried mashed plantain stuffed with pork crackling, crab, lobster, shrimp, or a combination of all of them. Puerto Rico's cuisine embraces its African roots, weaving them into its Indian and Spanish influences."
In 1478, the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, established an ecclesiastical tribunal known as the Spanish Inquisition. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms.
The Inquisition maintained no rota or religious court in Puerto Rico. However, heretics were written up and if necessary remanded to regional Inquisitional tribunals in Spain or elsewhere in the western hemisphere. Africans were not allowed to practice non-Christian, native religious beliefs. No single organized ethnic African religion survived intact from the times of slavery to the present in Puerto Rico. But, many elements of African spiritual beliefs have been incorporated into syncretic ideas and practices. Santería, a Yoruba-Catholic syncretic mix, and Palo Mayombe, Kongolese traditions, are also practiced in Puerto Rico, the latter having arrived there at a much earlier time. A smaller number of people practice Vudú, which is derived from Dahomey mythology.
Palo Mayombe, or Congolese traditions, existed for several centuries before Santería developed during the 19th century. Guayama became nicknamed "the city of witches", because the religion was widely practiced in this town. Santeria is believed to have been organized in Cuba among its slaves. The Yoruba were brought to many places in the Caribbean and Latin America. They carried their traditions wit them, and in some places, they held onto more of them. In Puerto Rico and Trinidad Christianity was dominant. Although converted to Christianity, the captured Africans did not abandon their traditional religious practices altogether. Santería is a syncretic religion created between the diverse images drawn from the Catholic Church and the representational deities of the African Yoruba ethnic group of Nigeria. Santería is widely practiced in the town of Loíza. Sister traditions emerged in their own particular ways on many of the smaller islands. Similarly, throughout Europe, early Christianity absorbed influences from differing practices among the peoples, which varied considerably according to region, language and ethnicity.
Santería has many deities said to be the "top" or "head" God. These deities, which are said to have descended from heaven to help and console their followers, are known as "Orishas." According to Santería, the Orishas are the ones who choose the person each will watch over.
Unlike other religions where a worshiper is closely identified with a sect (such as Christianity), the worshiper is not always a "Santero". Santeros are the priests and the only official practitioners. (These "Santeros" are not to be confused with the Puerto Rico's craftsmen who carve and create religious statues from wood, which are also called Santeros). A person becomes a Santero if he passes certain tests and has been chosen by the Orishas.
As of the 2010 Census, 75.8% of Puerto Ricans identify as white, 12.4% identify as black, 0.5% as Amerindian, 0.2% as Asian, and 11.1% as "mixed or other." Many sources estimate that about 46% of Puerto Ricans have some African ancestry, though estimates vary greatly. They have not had the same political situation to cope with, which led to African Americans identifying as black, in part to collect their political power when trying to gain enforcement of their civil rights and protection of voting. The vast majority of blacks in Puerto Rico are Afro-Puerto Rican, meaning they have been in Puerto Rico for generations, usually since the slave trade, forming an important part of Puerto Rican culture and society.
Recent black immigrants have come to Puerto Rico, mainly from the  Dominican Republic, Haiti, and other Latin American and Caribbean countries, and to a lesser extant directly from Africa as well. Many black migrants from the United States and the Virgin Islands settle in Puerto Rico. Also, many Afro-Puerto Ricans have migrated out of Puerto Rico, namely to the United States. There and in the US Virgin Islands, they make up the bulk of the U.S. Afro-Latino population.
With laws such as Regla del Sacar or Gracias al Sacar, Puerto Rico had some means of persons of mixed African-European ancestry to be classified as white, which was different from US society after the American Civil War. There the "one-drop rule" was made law in the early 20th century in the United States.
Not all Puerto Ricans are of multi-ethnic ancestry. Those who are, generally only identify as of "mixed race" if their parents "appear" to be of different "races". In the early decades under US rule, census takers began to shift from classifying people as black to "white" and the society underwent what was called a "whitening" process from the 1910 to the 1920 census, in particular.
In the 21st century, Puerto Rico is having a resurgence in black affiliation, mainly due to famous Afro-Puerto Ricans promoting black pride among the Puerto Rican community. In addition, Afro-Puerto Rican youth are learning more of their peoples' history from textbooks that encompass more Afro-Puerto Rican history.
The following lists only include only the number of people who identify as black and do not attempt to estimate everyone with African ancestry. The municipalities with the largest black populations, as of the 2010 census, were:
As noted in the earlier discussion, several of these cities were places where freedmen gathered after gaining freedom, establishing communities.
- Loíza: 64.3%
- Arroyo: 32.5%
- Maunabo: 30.4%
- Víeques: 28.1%
- Culebra: 26.6%
- Río Grande: 24.6%
- Carolína 22.8%
- Canóvanas: 21.6%
- Luquillo: 20.8%
- Patillas: 19.9%
Notable Afro-Puerto Ricans
- List of Puerto Ricans
- Cultural diversity in Puerto Rico
- Puerto Rican people
- History of women in Puerto Rico
- Afro-Latin American - North, Central and South America
- Black Hispanic and Latino Americans - United States of America
- Black people
- List of topics related to Black and African people
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