Category Archives: Culture

Plena!

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Earlier I shared with you all Bomba and now I’m sharing with you all Plena.  Plena is another traditional style of music and dance from Puerto Rico, which also originates from African culture, but also has a heavy Caribbean influence.  Bomba and Plena are both personal favorites of mine, so I hope you all enjoy it.

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A Blend of Cultures

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As I’ve mentioned before, Puerto Rico is a blend of three main cultural influences, which include Taíno, Spanish, and African influences. All three cultures had a strong presence on the island throughout its history, which have ultimately melted together to form a seamless Puerto Rican culture.

The Taínos were a group of Arawakan Indians from the Caribbean, mainly Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and, of course, Puerto Rico, who inhabited these islands before the Europeans arrived. They had their own language, structures, religious cosmology, and system of theocratic kingdoms that worked under caciques. Overall, they were a peaceful group of Native Americans and they relied heavily on agriculture as well as hunting for survival. The Taínos main contribution to modern day Puerto Rican culture came through words. Many of the words and names used in Puerto Rico come from the Taíno language.

When it comes to things like food, vegetation, and animals native to Puerto Rico, nearly each name used today derives from the Taínos. For example, yuca, ceiba, guaraguao, and iguana all come from the Taínos. In addition, you can still find many Puerto Rican cities and towns with Taíno names. Mayagüez, Gurabo, Utuado, Yauco, and Cayey all are Taíno names. Not to mention the fact that maracas and cassava bread also comes from Taíno culture, as well as, many Puerto Rican superstitions. Unfortunately, when the Spanish arrived in Puerto Rico, the Taínos didn’t survive too much longer and much of their culture has become a thing of the past.

The Spanish first arrived in the early 16th century, which greatly changed the culture of the island. Not only did the Taínos dwindle in numbers, but the Spanish also began asserting their cultural dominance in Puerto Rico. Spain’s influences on Puerto Rico’s modern day culture are obvious. Puerto Ricans speak Spanish and the island is predominately Catholic, which both come from Spain’s influence. Spain also brought over culinary styles, music, dance, and fashion to Puerto Rico, which still exist on the island today. However, the Spanish also shaped Puerto Rico’s identity when it introduced slavery onto the island.

Because of the slave trade, there was an influx of Africans arriving on the island, which inherently brought over parts of their culture. I recently shared with you all what Bomba is, which originated from the African slaves. Bomba and Plena are both styles of music and dance which came from the Africans, but are now considered two of Puerto Rico’s traditional styles. The African slaves also brought over their culinary styles, like the Spanish, and their traditional oral storytelling. The African slaves are also why so many Puerto Ricans identify as Afro-Caribbeans.

Knowing about the deep blend within Puerto Rican culture, I don’t understand the vast amount of division amongst Puerto Ricans. Aside from being identified as Hispanic, Puerto Ricans can be mistaken for a white European, an African, or a mixed person with how diverse the shades of our skin color can be. Culturally, we all take cues from Europe, Africa, and Native Americans. Granted, not all Puerto Ricans perpetuate prejudice behavior, but there are still plenty of people who encourage the light-skin vs. dark-skin debate. Regardless, all Puerto Ricans, and all Caribbeans for that matter, are of European descent, African descent, and Native American descent. The Caribbean is a seamless blend of cultures.

Bomba!

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Puerto Rican culture is a blend of Taíno, African, and Spanish influences.  Bomba is one of the traditional styles of music and dance in Puerto Rico, which originated from African culture that was brought over during slavery.  Today, Bomba is still prevalent throughout the island, particularly on the East coast and during cultural festivals.  Here is a taste of what Bomba is like.

“La Borinqueña”

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With “Grito de Lares” as her inspiration, Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodríguez de Tío wrote “La Borinqueña.”  The poem’s words were eventually changed to become less revolutionary and more patriotic to appease a larger group of people.  The modernized version of Lola’s poem is now Puerto Rico’s anthem, still titled “La Borinqueña.”

Here are the original words that Lola Rodríguez de Tío wrote in 1868.

¡Despierta, borinqueño
que han dado la señal!
¡Despierta de ese sueño
que es hora de luchar!
A ese llamar patriótico
¿no arde tu corazón?
¡Ven! Nos será simpático
el ruido del cañón.
Mira, ya el cubano
libre será;
le dará el machete
su libertad…
le dará el machete
su libertad.
Ya el tambor guerrero
dice en su son,
que es la manigua el sitio,
el sitio de la reunión,
de la reunión…
de la reunión.
El Grito de Lares
se ha de repetir,
y entonces sabremos
vencer o morir.
Bellísima Borinquén,
a Cuba hay que seguir;
tú tienes bravos hijos
que quieren combatir.
ya por más tiempo impávido
no podemos estar,
ya no queremos, tímidos
dejarnos subyugar.
Nosotros queremos
ser libre ya,
y nuestro machete
afilado está.
y nuestro machete
afilado está.
¿Por qué, entonces, nosotros
hemos de estar,
tan dormidos y sordos
y sordos a esa señal?
a esa señal, a esa señal?
No hay que temer, riqueños
al ruido del cañón,
que salvar a la patria
es deber del corazón!
ya no queremos déspotas,
caiga el tirano ya,
las mujeres indómitas
también sabrán luchar.
Nosotros queremos
la libertad,
y nuestros machetes
nos la darán…
y nuestro machete
nos la dará…
Vámonos, borinqueños,
vámonos ya,
que nos espera ansiosa,
ansiosa la libertad.
¡La libertad, la libertad!

El Grito de Lares

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Lares Flag

On this day 146 years ago, Puerto Rico attempted a revolution in the name of independence from Spain. This was the only attempt for independence in all of Puerto Rico’s history and is now known as “El Grito de Lares.”

The rebellion was supposed to take place on September 29 and include support from thousands coming from other parts of the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands, but, due to complications and allies being compromised, the rebellion was carried out on September 23, 1968 by no more than 600 people. The Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico, as the rebellion group was called, was able to take over Lares, proclaiming the Republic of Puerto Rico; however, the following day, the rebellion was stopped in San Sebastian by Spanish militia.

Although “El Grito de Lares” only lasted a day and independence was ultimately not gained, this was still an immensely important event in Puerto Rico and had several positive effects in shaping the island’s current identity. During the rebellion, Puerto Rico’s first flag was created by Mariana Bracetti and Lola Rodriguez de Tio’s poem, “La Borinquena,” was written. Following the rebellion, the island gained more autonomy for itself and it is still heavily discussed in Puerto Rican history.

In my opinion, “El Grito de Lares” may be viewed as a failure and a waste by some people, but it clearly had a huge effect if it’s still remembered today. It shows that, despite complications and difficulties, you should always try. Even if the outcome you had in mind doesn’t come about, then something positive can still be the result of your effort.

“Que Bonita Bandera”

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Puerto Rico may not have an Independence Day, making its participation in Hispanic Heritage Month a little awkward, but the island is nothing short of having pride.  In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some Hispanic culture related posts with you all and the first is Plena Libre’s performance of “Que Bonita Bandera.”  Plena is one of Puerto Rico’s traditional dance styles and this song dedicated to the island’s flag is a perfect representation of Boricua pride.  Enjoy!