What is a Jíbaro?                                                                                                                                   Homepage

Jíbaro is a term used to refer to mountain people, who lived "in-land" in the heart of the island, and are the backbone of the Puerto Rican culture.

In 1820, Miguel Cabrera, a poet from Arecibo, writes "Coplas del Jíbaro."  In 1835 "xibaro" surfaces in French and American documents.  In 1849, Dr. Manuel Alonzo, published his book, "Gibaro (old Spanish)."  It is obvious from these writing that "jíbaro" referers to rustic life or lifestyle, and that the term is common in the island.

It should be noted that the term jíbaro, according to the Catholic online encyclopedia, is also the name of a tribal group in South America, it meant "mountain men."  Jíbaro means "People of the Forest" in the Taíno language. So the term obviously came with them as they immigrated from South America. However "jíbaro" - as is used in Puerto Rico, is not used the same in Cuba or the Dominican Republic, which were populated with the very same Taíno people.

Early Puerto Rico was a thick bosque with very few and far between roads.  It was easier to take a boat to get to the other side of the island than to travel across.  This isolated the jíbaros and helped to develop their distinct identity.  Municipios were isolated areas and travel between municipios was not common. Each town was founded with a Catholic church as the "heart" of the town, and a plaza in front. Each town had its own patron saint. Yearly Patron Saint fiestas (Fiestas Patronales) were celebrated in each town. People looked forward to these yearly patron saint festivals and to navidad celebrations. They labored from dawn to dusk, daily, and looked forward to these celebrations.

Music was a major component in the development of the Jíbaro persona.  Jíbaros made their own entertainment and most of the time that meant music.  With strong Spaniard roots, the jíbaros became poets, composers, and great story tellers.  They wrote and sang coplas, décimas, seis chorreao, aguinaldos y villancicos, and cuentos de Juan Bobo.  Fiestas took on a new meaning for the overworked, and exhausted campesinos.  Holidays became important events. 

Traditionally a jíbaro was a poor mountain man (as in the American hillbilly), someone from the mountains, in el campo or "la isla" as they refer to the heart of the island in Puerto Rico. Not all residents of the interior of the island were jíbaros.  Some were acendados from well to do families.  The hacendados considered themselves Españoles, were well educated, often completing their education in Europe, and had servants.

A jíbaro was the poor campesino, uneducated, and illiterate.  He lived in extreme poverty.  He made do with what little he had. The jíbaro was not educated, but he was not stupid. He had natural wisdom.  Other traits traditionally linked to jíbaros were honesty, bravery, hospitality, self-sufficiency, stuburness, and mucho orgullo.

A jibarito knew how to work the soil, milk a cow, how to concoct home remedies for both his family and his animals using yerbas.  He invented "lechón en la varita" and knew how to use a fogón.  I speak in the past tense because the true jíbaro is now dead, gone forever, but NOT forgotten. Over 50% of islanders today have at least one year of college. So, we can't say that there are any true jíbaros left - only jíbaros de corazón.

We don't know much about the development of the "jíbaro," but we know what it represents today - a true and genuine Puertorriqueño. . . .






The Spanish guitar with six strings, entered Puerto Rico in 1516 and underwent several changes, owing the lack of native materials and craftsmen to produce authentic instruments. Of the derivatives, namely the requinto, bordonua, tiple and cuatro, only the cuatro is used with any frequency today. It has five double strings and produces a unique, rather hollow sound. (A linguistic note: cuatro means "fourth" and refers to the tuning of strings which are a half octave (a fourth) apart.)

The güicharo, or güiro is undoubtedly native to the island (a Taíno instrument). It is a hollowed gourd with ridges cut into one side. A wire fork is rhythmically dragged over the ridges to produce an unusual percussion sound. It has found its way into many forms of Latin music.

. Seis is the most important form of jíbaro music. Seis means many things within the music—not only a type of singing but also a type of rhythm. The seis came to Puerto Rico from Spain in the 1680s. Spanish stringed instruments served as the inspiration for distinctive Puerto Rican instruments such as the cuatro, tiple, and bordonúa.

The first settlers of Puerto Rico, the majority of whom came from the province of Andalucia in Spain, brought with them the Andalusian couplet and the seguidilla, from which contemporary popular poetry is patterned. The décima jíbara or countryside poetry of today is traceable also to the Andalusian décima, a metric combination of ten verses which was introduced into the island during the sixteenth century.

Vida Criolla
Luis Lloréns Torres

¡Ay, qué lindo es mi bohío!
Y qué alegre es mi palmar.

¡Y qué fresco el platanar
de la orillita del río!

¡Qué sabroso es tener frío
y un buen cigarro encender!

¡Qué dicha no conocer
de letras ni astronomía!

¡Y qué buena hembra la mía
cuando se deja querer!

El Puertorriqueño
Manuel A. Alonso

Color moreno, frente despejada,
mirar lánguido, altivo y penetrante,
la barba negra, pálido el semblante,
rostro enjuto, nariz proporcionada.

Mediana talla, marcha compasada;
el alma de ilusiones anhelante,
agudo ingenio, libre y arrogante,
piensa inquieto, mente acalorada.

Humano, afable, justo, dadivoso,
en empresa de amor siempre variable,
tras la gloria y place siempre afanoso.

Y en amor a su patria insuperable
Este es, a no dudarlo, fiel diseño
para copia un buen puertorriqueño

In 1849 Manuel Alonso published "El Gíbaro" (old spelling),
a book of poetry and prose that is considered a "criollismo"
full of costumbrismos and early island vernacular.

Read the poem... it will make you laugh, if you can understand it.