Visitors can learn about the African cultural influence of
Puerto Rico at El Museo de Nuestra Raiz Africana" (the
Museum of our African Roots).
Celebrating Puerto Rico's Black Heritage
By Alma Abreu
SeeingBlack.com Contributing Writer
about Black Arts! Click here.
The average tourist visiting Puerto Rico never learns about the
African history that is vivid and alive throughout the island. Too
often, the Spanish and indigenous roots of Puerto Rico are highlighted
to tourists while the African heritage is left unspoken. For many
years, the Black history of Puerto Rico was even missing from Puerto
Rico's history books. Thankfully as a new generation of conscious
Puerto Ricans, both Black and mixed explore their African heritage,
this erasure is ending.
"El Museo de Nuestra Raiz Africana" (the Museum of our
African Roots) located in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, is where you
can learn about the African cultural influence of Puerto Rico. This
heritage is celebrated through paintings, artifacts, documents and
photographs. According to the museum brochure, "one of the
aims of the museum is to preserve, collect, document and spread
the history and culture of Puerto Rico that grew out of the Black
population's experience on the island."
The museum exhibit is arranged in a chronological order documenting
the origin, background and arrival of the African slaves to Puerto
Rico. On the first floor the various ethnic groups of the slaves
from West and Central Africa are listed such as the Ashanti, Yoruba,
Bantu and Congo. There are drawings depicting the middle passage
and the brutal treatment of the slaves once on the sugar plantations.
Documents and pictures from the 16th and 17th centuries paint a
very real picture of the mistreatment of African slaves by the Spaniards,
a fact that many Puerto Ricans have failed to acknowledge..
Other displays illustrate what life was like after slavery was
abolished in 1868. Blacks had little or no opportunity for advancement
and faced discrimination from Whites. A picture of Rafael Cordero
tells the story of how he opened the first school for Blacks because
they were not accepted into schools. He started teaching Black girls
and boys in his house in the community of San German and eventually
opened a school in what is now Old San Juan.
On the second floor of the museum, the modern culture derived from
the Africa's encounter with the Taino Indians and the Spaniards
is explored. The religion of the Yoruba, referred to on the island
as Santeria, is a product of the mixing of Yoruba deities with Catholic
saints. The way in which this religion manifested itself in Puerto
Rico is explained through photographs and sacred religious items.
Drums used in the African derived music of Bomba called "tambors"
are on display as well as the traditional dress worn by Bomba dancers.
There are artifacts showing how the modern festivals, customs and
cuisines trace their roots back to Africa. There is a festive display
of local Afro-Puerto Rican art, such as the masks used in the music
festivals of the historically Black town of Loiza. In addition there
are paintings by Puerto Rican artists Samuel Lind and Antonio Broccoli
which depict scenes of the music, dancers and drummers of Bomba
The museum sits near the main tourist attraction of Puerto Rico,
"El Morro" which was a military fortress built by slaves.
There are many art galleries close by displaying Puerto Rican artwork.
But they do not show the art of Black Puerto Rico as does "El
Museo de Nuestra Raiz Africana. The museum is a start for a long
overdue examination of Black Puerto Rican culture on the island.
"El Museo de Nuestra Raiz Africana is located in the
Plaza San Jose in Old San Juan next to the entrance of the "Morro".
The museum's hours are from 8:30 – 4:00pm Tuesday through
Saturday. The telephone number is: (787)724-4294.
-- February 13, 2004
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