In 1509, Juan Garrido, a free black man and conquistador, arrived on the island of Puerto Rico as part of Ponce de León's entourage. Juan Garrido is reported to be the first black man ever to set foot in Puerto Rico.
Africans were part of the formation of the "Puerto Rican" culture and identity from the very beginning, helping to shape our music, art, language, and heritage. From the early colonial times there were free black citizens, freed slaves, and "cimarrones," or escaped slaves. Christian convert slaves, also known as "ladinos" (slaves who spoke bozal Spanish), accompanied Ponce de León to Borinquen in 1509.
The slave "trade" did not reach the island until 1519. The slaves were brought in to work the sugar cane fields. Between the years 1530 and 1540, the slave population reached its highest level, with slaves surpassing Spaniards 5 to 1. Slavery was abolished on March 22, 1873.
The African imprint in Puerto Rican culture is apparent in many ways: foods such as gandules, cocos, bacalao, yames, funche, plátanos and pasteles; music such as bomba and plena; and in our vocabulary with words like borundanga, and fufú. The most distinct African cultural influence comes from the Yoruba tribes in Africa. Our music and dance are finely seasoned with sabor Africano.
Part of the undisputed African legacy on the Puerto Rican culture includes a peculiar speech pattern. The West Africans brought to the island spoke "bozal" Spanish, a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish, and Congo - much like the poem excerpt on this page. Many Puerto Ricans have the habit of swallowing the "s," and often pronounce the "r" as an "l". This is because in the African tongue there is no "s" or "r" sound.
Puerto Rico's negroid poems written by Luis Pales Matos and Fernando Fortunato Vizcarondo and others record Puerto Rico's Afro-heritage.
By: Ivonne Figueroa
Edited by Barbara Yañez
Yo sabe señó Manué
Toro Nasaria yo sé
Nasaria, mio chiquita,