Our ancestors worshiped in both private and public ways.
Areitos were celebrations which honored not only the Spirits
but also the persons hosting it along with the invited guests.
Epic songs were sung and danced to. Tekina were the ceremonial
leaders of the Epic songs that recounted both the deeds and
the exploits of the ancestors. There was however also room for
the creation of new songs and dances. The Spanish documented
that the Casica Anacaona was famous for her compositions and
choreography for the Areitos. They even mention in one account
that she organized an Areito where over a thousand maidens
danced in honor of the Spanish. These celebrations took place
in the Batey. That is the area where the sacred ball game was
played. It was important that all creation witness the Areito.
Song and dance were a form of prayer. It was a way for the
community to be and move as one. It connected everyone to the
common ancestor and reinforced the sense of kinship. Every
important event in human life was celebrated with an Areito.
With the conquest by the Spaniards the Areitos proved too
dangerous so they were soon outlawed. Organized gatherings
were not allowed except under the leadership of Catholic
priests or a devote convert and then only for the purpose of
teaching the Christian faith. The need for a substitute way of
celebration, that met the need of the people to express
themselves was noted. Parrandas were brought from Spain to
meet this need. It was a tool used to reinforce the Christian
doctrine while at the same time allowing people their self
expression and the need to worship through song and dance. The
Parrandas of Boriken began to look and feel different from
what was done in Spain. Our Parrandas had indigenous elements
within a Christian context. The Taino and their decendants
still played their maracas and guiros only now there was a
Spanish guitar. The celebrations still took place outdoors
under the night sky. The dancing often took place in the front
yards of the Bohios and to this day this area of the home is
still called Batey. The songs were still mostly a form of
prayer that was taken from home to home until the wee hours of
The songs that were sung at these Parrandas were originally of
a religious nature and many continue so to the present day.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph are sung about but with a Taino/Jibaro
flavor. After a time the Jibaro began to improvise new songs,
not only about religion but also about their joys and sorrows.
Women have also been known to be great improvisers of the
sytles sung for Parrandas. When I hear a woman sing decimas I
hear Anacaona underneath the Spanish trappings and my heart
We read about the Caribs or the Garifuna as many are called
today and we find reference to their "Paranda" (same word as
our's but only spelled with one R) as one form of traditional
Carib music. There are some differences in that they use three
drums and turtle shell rattles. Their Paranda is also
stationary in that they sing and dance in one location while
we go from house to house. It can not be denied however that
both styles of Parandas have similar roots and purpose.
Today there are many recordings of the traditional Jibaro
music. The songs often speak of our Taino ancestors. The
sounds of the guiro and the maraca is always constant and
consistent in the background. It is there reminding us and
connecting us to the Areitos of old. The guiro and maraca in
fact are every where in our Boricua music. Almost evey piece
of Salsa music has them. However we've heard them for so long
that we stop noticing. It is the same with many other Taino
cultural expressions. If you eat viandas (root vegs) with
fish, or corn, beans or pumpkins, you are eating traditional
foods. If you use achiote to color your food or just cook an
old fasion sancocho (ajiaco) you are connecting. If you've
ever attended a Parranda or had a Spiritist blow cigar smoke
on you or you prayed in front of your grandmother's home
shrine, then you were connecting.
The following decima is of my own inspiration. Written in the
It has ten lines with 8 syllables per stanza.
Le Lo Lai Le Lo Le ay Le Lo Lai Le Lo Le
Hoy estamos recordando,
Hoy estamos recordando,
Las costumbre del abuelo
De Yukiyu un te quiero
llevo cuan flor entre labios
En Boriken hay Quaribos
En Boriken hay Quariches
La voz del Coqui me dice
Daca Taino Taino.
Le Lo Lai Le Lo Le
Today we are remembering
Today we are remembering
The customs of the grand father
An " I love you" from Yukiyu
I carry as a flower on my lips.
Boriken has brave men.
Boriken has brave women
The voice of the coqui frog says
I am Taino, I am Taino.
I'm sharing this today in the hopes that we become more aware
of how much of our culture we really still retain. My dear
friends, try to remember this as you celebrate the coming
holiday season. Our unique cultural expressions are there just
beneath the surface, all we have to do is take a second look.