Monday, October 30, 2006

The Spirit of Africa: Part-2

The African was not alone in recognizing the spirit of life that surrounded him.
The power and beauty of nature is on display in every region of planet earth.
Yet, upon first contact with Africans, Europeans failed to see the beauty inherit in the Africans reverence for nature.
The belief that "everything is alive or "everything has a soul" helped to foster a conservationist mentality in most parts of the continent. Flora and fauna were not abused or overly exploited. Saying a prayer before slaughtering an animal or cutting down a tree were rituals that created a spiritual accountability. Humans acknowledged their place as custodians of the land.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Spirit of Africa: Part-1

For hundreds of years we have lived under the tyranny of Eurocentric academia.
What the European thought of us was enforced by his own religious imagery. We had no image of an African Jesus to act as a counter balance. Volumes of European scholarly works were filtered through the prism of abject racism.
If we believed that he was a god, then his academia was also god-like. His perceptions of other cultures was always filtered through his emperical beliefs.
When Europeans encountered Africans in the 15th century, they were so convinced of their own superiority that they deemed the majority of Africans to be primitives. Even confusing the world's primordial people with primates.
We have as historical proof the countless cartoons that depicted us as resembling the great apes of Africa.
To portray us as less than human was a necessary ploy in enabling the immoral enslavement of the continents' children.
Central to their erroneous judgement of Africans, was their inability to understand our belief systems. Ironically, what we believed and how we came to believe it, was the most significant aspect of our African societies and cultures. The African belief systems were the nucleus of their daily lives. Their beliefs could not be extricated from their society and culture. Art, dramatic passion plays, music, dance, ritual, ceremony, custom, medicine and faith were all interwoven into the fabric of African life. To not understand the depth of what we believed; was to not understand us at all.

In fact, we people of the African Diaspora are living proof that the Africans belief systems could be preserved through the erosion of time,distance and counter-cultural domination.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The African in Puerto Rico: An Overview

In 1511, several indigenous Taino Caciques in Puerto Rico allied with the Caribs and tried to oust the Spaniards. The revolt was pacified by the forces of Governor Juan Ponce de Leon.
It is written that after the native revolt was surpressed some Tainos fled the island and others jumped into the sea rather than be enslaved by Spaniards. The Tainos who remained on the island were decimated by European diseases.
A new labor force would be needed to satisfy the voracious appetites of the Spanish. In 1517, the Spanish Crown permitted its subjects to import twelve slaves each in what became the beginning of the slave trade in the New World.

The Spaniards coined the term 'Bozales' for those brought to the New World straight from Africa. They consisted of Africans from different regions and ethnic groups. This was done to prevent them from communicating with each other and planning an uprising or revolt.
The first enslaved Africans to arrive on the island of Puerto Rico in any sizable numbers were from Senegal. The next group were the Mandingo from the Western Sudan.

Despite the Spaniard's precautions,they could not stop the enslaved Africans from mounting the first recorded rebellion in Latin America (July 26-Nov 23, 1514). King Ferdinand of Spain then authorized Seville to import Africans only in groups of 50 (up to 200), so they could be more easily controlled.

Later arrivals to the island were from the Guinea area. People who were preferred for their perceived quality of; "not being war-like". After the slave revolt of 1527, Spanish edicts were passed prohibiting the importation of Africans from Islamic areas since; "they do not make good slaves and they are prone to revolt".

According to historian Luis M. Diaz, the largest contingent of Africans came from the Gold Coast, Nigeria and Dahomey, or the region known as the area of Guineas, the Slave Coast. However, the vast majority came from the Yorubas tribe from Nigeria and the 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 branded on the forehead with a stamp so people would know they were brought in legally and that way they couldn't be kidnapped. The cruelty of hot branding was stopped in 1784.

The African slave was sent to work the gold mines, as a replacement of the lost Taino manpower, or to work in the fields in the islands ginger and sugar industry. By 1570, the gold mines were declared depleted and no longer produced the precious metal. After gold mining came to an end in the island, the Spanish Crown basically ignored Puerto Rico by changing the routes of the west to the north. The vast majority of the white Spanish settlers left the island to seek their fortunes in the richer colonies such as Mexico and the island became a Spanish garrison. The majority of those who stayed behind were either Bozales or Creoles (of mixed race).

An official Spanish edict of 1664 offered freedom and land to African people from non-Spanish colonies, such as Jamaica and St. Dominique (Haiti), who immigrated to Puerto Rico and provided a population base to support the Puerto Rican garrison and its forts.

These freeman 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 their many attempts to invade the island. It should be noted that the escaped slaves and freedman who immigrated from the West Indies, kept their former masters surnames which normally was either English or French. This is why it is not uncommon for Puerto Ricans of African decedent to have non-Spanish surnames.

After the successful slave rebellion against the French in St Dominique (Haiti) in 1803, the Spanish Crown became fearful that the "Criollos" (native born) of Puerto Rico and Cuba, her last two remaining possessions, may follow suit. By the time Spain reestablished her commercial ties with Puerto Rico, the island had a large multiracial population. Therefore, the Spanish government issued the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815, attracting European immigrants from non-Spanish countries to populate the island believing that these new immigrants would be more loyal to Spain. However, they did not expect the new immigrants to racially intermarry as they did and identify themselves completely with their new homeland. The decree encouraged slave labor to revive agriculture and attract new settlers. The new agricultural class now immigrating from other countries of Europe sought slave labor in large numbers and cruelty became the order of the day.

The Spanish government had lost most of its possessions in the New World by 1850. The Spanish government 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. It is for this reason that we see a series of slave uprisings in the island, from the early 1820's until 1868.

Even though one of the reasons that the Spanish Crown put the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815 into effect was to "whiten" the islands population by offering attractive incentives to non-Hispanic Europeans, the new arrivals continued to intermarry with the native islanders. By 1868, the majority of the population of Puerto Rico was interracially mixed.

On September 23, 1868, slaves, who were promised their freedom, participated in the short failed revolt against Spain which became known in the history books as "El Grito de Lares" or "The Cry of Lares". Many of the participants were imprisoned or executed.

Finally, on March 22, 1873, slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico. Slave owners were to free their slaves in exchange of a monetary compensation. The majority of the freed slaves continued to work for their former masters with the difference that they were now 'freeman'.

Many of these freeman started settlements in the areas which became known as Cangrejos (Santurce), Carolina, Canovanas, Loíza Aldea and Luquillo.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My Next CD is Inspired by Katrina


For us, Caribbean People, hurricanes are not para-normal events. You grow up hearing stories about devastating hurricanes and you get to experience a few yourself.

In fact, there have been a few hurricanes that have contributed to the migration of Island People to the States!

True fact is...most hurricanes develop off the coast of West Africa, churning through the Middle Passage. Many an African met their demise along that route of kidnapped and enslaved people. One of my good friends said it was a strange irony that storms come up from this watery burial ground to reek havoc on the Americas.

"The Invisible made Visible"

Katrina stripped America naked, exposing the world to the stark realities of an invisible economic underclass that toils within the shadows of America's opulence. Many people navigate the daily treachery of Urban America with profound ingenuity but "the roof was torn off the house" and even the strong could not survive!

"The Rain Does Not Fall On One Roof"

-Ewe (Ghana) Proverb

African Wisdom reminds us that we are all subject to the sovereignty of the Earth's Elements.

"Hurricane on the Horizon" was inspired by Katrina and some other world issues. Unlike my last few CDs this CD will be entirely in English.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Part-4: The Happy Slaves

There is this continuing myth about the enslavement of Africans in the tropical Americas.
This fallacy persists that we island people were 'the happy slaves'.
I have seen the old Eurocentric lithographs that depicted swaying palm trees and cheerful Africans scurrying about.
Among African-Americans in the US there is this perception that island people had an easier time in their servitude. There is this idea that we escaped the brutality and the horrors of captivity and enslavement.
A few months ago I posted photgraphs that I had taken in San Juan's Museum of African Heritage. Shackles and grotesque torture devices of every sort were on display to remind us that the cruelty of the colonizers crossed every European border.
The eternally radiant disposition of our Caribbean people does not owe itself to any historical leniency on the part of English, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish or Spanish plantation owners.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Part-3: Preserving The Indigenous Identity

On my last journey to Brasil, in March 2006, my friend put this Tupi indian crown atop my head. Why did I feel so uncomfortable wearing this ornate crown of Amazon bird feathers?
After all, my grandfather had explained to me that his mother was an indigenous indian.
If I was an American I would therefore be afforded the identity,"rights" and status of a 'Native American'. Being a Carib or Taino indigenous American does not afford you the right to any official racial distinction. Maybe that is why the crown was so uncomfortable to bear atop my head.
The Tupi are one of the surviving indigenous ethnic groups in the Americas. Many of the indigenous people of the Caribbean where not as fortunate. Not having a dense jungle as a refuge, made the natives more susceptable to wholesale slaughter and European diseases.

It can be said that human bloodlines do not easily disappear into the sunset of history .
Though civilizations might seemingly vanish without a trace or be vanquished by genocide;human bloodlines remain.
Walk down the streets of any major American city and you will see the faces of Mayans,Aztecs,Olmecs and Incas. What about the indigenous of the Caribbean?
Though a significant population of indigenous people still exist on the islands of Dominica and Trinidad,the more significant number protected their bloodlines by intermarriage.
The Taino,Lucayan,Ciboney,Arawak and Carib were not extinguished from history.
They did have to blend their bloodlines with both Europeans and Africans to survive.
In some cases, as with the Spanish and Portuguese, these mestizo bloodlines were even more convoluted because the Europeans themselves had already mixed with North African Berbers and Arabs.
The surviving creole ethnicity still managed to retain a cultural identity by keeping to themselves in small communities. The result is that when you walk down the street in Arima,Trinidad (as I have) you see a multitude of indigenous faces. It doesn't matter that the Caribs in Trinidad may have intermarried with East Indians, the culture and bloodlines have not been made extinct. The Taino bloodlines of the Greater Antilles (Cuba,Santo Domingo & Puerto Rico) were thought to have been completely extinguished. Recent books have dispelled this myth. A recent genetic study done in Puerto Rico estimated that more than 60% of the population have Taino bloodlines. Actually, this was no surprise to people on the island who eat pasteles, guanemes and cassabe bread and refer to many dark-haired girls as "la India".
In Puerto Rico, as in other islands, the Taino survived by going into the central mountains.
In other parts of the Americas, African maroons were given shelter by indigenous people.
The Garifuna of Central America being an example of how this blending of bloodlines allowed both cultural imprints to survive. Though there may not exist any "pure Caribbean Indians"
the culture is far from extinct. People do not willingly disappear into the sunset of history.

Here are some of the original names of Caribbean islands:

Cubanacán (
Cuba), Waitikubuli (Dominica), Boriken (Puerto Rico),Cairi (Trinidad)
Quisqueya (Dominican Republic) Xaymaca (Jamaica) and
Lucayas (Bahamas).