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Puerto Rico in the Great Depression

Cultural Life
From Puerto Rico: A Guide to the Island of Boriquén
Federal Writers Project, 1940

Publishing Information
  1. Spanish colonization was not altogether a pillaging expedition, nor were the civil and ecclesiastical officials so many gold-hungry looters. A number of them were men with excellent educational and cultural backgrounds. Some were among the leading scientists and scholars of the day; others, themselves men of letters, encouraged the production of literature in the New World.

  2. 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.

  3. Coupled with the poetry of Puerto Rico is the name of the Spanish poet Bernardo de Balbuena. Appointed to the Diocese of the Island as Bishop, he occupied this high ecclesiastical office from 1619 to 1627, when he died at San Juan. It was here that he retouched and corrected his famous poem Bernardo, in imitation of Ariosto, and wrote its prologue.

  4. Another man of letters was Padre Francisco Ayerra Santamaría, born at San Juan about 1630, and considered the first Puerto Rican poet. His writing was done in Mexico, where he was successful, and his work has been included in many anthologies.

  5. Among the first historians of Puerto Rico in the sixteenth century were Juan Garcia Troche and Antonio de Santa Clara. They wrote a Memorial and General Description of the Island of Puerto Rico (1582), containing the first historical outline of the origin of the Puerto Ricans.

  6. During the seventeenth century the historian Padre Diego de Torres Vargas, graduate of the famous University of Salamanca in Spain, wrote a Description of the Island and City of Puerto Rico. His book contains a detailed geographic description of the Island, including a survey of all fruits, commerce, mines, churches, and hospitals; notices on the State and the Capital; and an extensive and erudite bibliography.

  7. By far the most outstanding historian of the eighteenth century was Father Iñigo Abbad y Lasierra, who lived on the Island for ten years. In 1788 he published at Madrid his Historia Geográfica, Civil y Política de Puerto Rico, an ambitious work comprising a complete history of Puerto Rico from the time of its discovery in 1493 until 1783.

  8. Oratory was a favored form of expression. In the early centuries of the Island's occupation some of its exponents were Padre Alonso Manso, Puerto Rico's first bishop (1513), Padre Pedro Yando, who delivered a Funeral Oration in memory of Phillip V of Spain, and Padre Juan Bautista de Zengotita who, in 1797, delivered a sermon on the occasion of the triumph of the National Militia over the British.

  9. During the first three hundred years of Spanish rule, however, the intellectual progress of the Island was difficult and slow. Almost the entire population was illiterate, and the schools were so few and so poor as hardly to merit the name. Later, during the revolutionary period (1800-1840), the Spanish Government imposed a strict censorship on the colonies. The importation of books was opposed by the authorities, who believed them to be instruments of sedition. Puerto Rico was placed under many restrictions, in fear that its people would join the movement for independence then current in Latin America. This fact explains why, prior to 1840, there was very little printed matter in the Island. Intellectuals had to struggle against insurmountable odds, and newspapers lived but for brief periods. The only young men who could hope for education were those whose families could afford to send them to Spain to take university degrees. These young students, prompted perhaps by nostalgia for their native land, began a literary and artistic movement that was later transplanted to Puerto Rico.

  10. The literary movement on the Island began with the introduction of the printing press. In 1812 the first book of poems was printed, and between 1820 and 1823 many literary contributions appeared in the Investigador, El Diario Liberal, and El Eco. In 1832 Bibiana Benítez composed an Ode dedicated to the Royal Territorial Court and a drama, La Cruz del Morro, the argument of which is based on the attack on San Juan by the Dutch in 1625. El Aguinaldo Puertorriqueño (1843) and Cancionero de Borinquen (1846) published collections of prose and verse written by the students in Spain.

  11. In 1851, Governor the Marquis Don Juan de la Pezuela, a poet, founded the Academy of Belles Lettres. This institution contributed greatly to the intellectual and literary progress of the Island.

  12. The revolution of 1868 in Spain, culminating in the dethronement of Isabella II and the establishment of the Spanish Republic, brought temporary freedom of the press. and of public discussion to Puerto Rico. It was the dawn of a literary renaissance, marked by tremendous political. ferment, in which Puerto Rican writers participated in the struggle for the independence of their own and other Latin-American countries. To this era belongs Eugenio Maria de Hostos, perhaps the most powerful mind of Spanish America. He was invited by Santo Domingo to reorganize the school system of that republic, but nine years later he had to leave the country because of his liberal views. Chile then offered him a chair in international law at its National University. His first book, The Pilgrimage of Bayoán (1863), is an exposé, written under a veil of fiction, of the restrictions of the Spanish Colonial regime. The book was suppressed by the Spanish Government. He edited a number of magazines and newspapers in Spanish America and the United States, and left behind him some fifty volumes, ranging all the way from nursery rhymes for his children to a national hymn of Puerto Rico, from light one-act comedies to what has been generally recognized as the finest critical essay on Hamlet ever written.

  13. In 1870 Ramón Baldorioty de Castro was elected Puerto Rican Deputy to the Spanish Cortes. He forcefully advocated liberty for the Island. Among his works are a poetical translation of Alfieri's drama Felipe II, and the translation of John Stuart Mill's Liberty. He edited El Derecho (1873) and La Crónica (1880), both at Ponce.

  14. Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances was one of the first champions of Puerto Rican independence. His works La f/urge de Borinquen and Les Voyages de Scaldado, written in French, and La Botijuela, in Spanish, symbolically portrayed the political aspirations of Puerto Rico during this period. Dramatist, poet, translator of Wendell Phillips, abolitionist, revolutionary, defender of the Jews at the time of the worst anti-Semitic feeling in France, this remarkable man was also a practicing physician, and was awarded the highest decoration ever bestowed on a foreigner for his medical work during the cholera epidemic in Paris.

  15. Don Manuel Alonso, author of El Jíbaro, depicted, in verse and prose, the Puerto Rican customs of the period. José Julián Acosta, author among other books of Derecho Prohibitivo y la Libertad de Comercio en América; Don Julián Blanco, José Pablo Morales, Manuel Corchado, Alejandrina Benítez, Julio Vizcarrondo, Federico Asenjo, and José Gualberto Padilla, were other nineteenth century writers, the last achieving great popularity in a controversy with the famous Spanish poet, Manuel del Palacio, during which the Puerto Rican defended the rights and the prestige of his country with biting satire.

  16. To this group of poets and writers who lived during the Spanish regime in Puerto Rico belongs also Don Salvador Brau, official historian of the Island, the author of Prehistoric Puerto Rico and of a splendid work entitled Spanish Colonization of Puerto Rico; Don Cayetano Coll y Toste, author of the Boletín Histórico de Puerto Rico; Luis Bonafoux, who, though not a native of the Island, became identified with its literature; and Don Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, inspired by Hegel, who devoted himself to almost all branches of literature. The best remembered and best loved of all writers of the later nineteenth century is José Gautier Benítez, whose poems are still recited by the older generation. Gautier Benítez lived at a time in which no literary renewal was possible, and like all other Puerto Rican poets of that period followed the school of Nuñez de Arce.

  17. Many of these writers were educated in Spain, as well as others not mentioned before—Mario Braschi; Francisco Alvarez; Manuel Elzaburu, who founded the Puerto Rico Atheneum; Abelardo Morales Ferrer; Antonio Cortón; José Mercado, author of the splendid poem, La Lengua Castellana; Doctor Zeno Gandía, author of the novel La Charca; Lola Rodriguez de Tió; Mariano Abril; Dr. Agustín Stahl, author of the botanical treatise Flora de Puerto Rico, and others. Living during a period of deep political unrest, many of these writers devoted themselves especially to journalism, and although some collected their work in book form, many failed to do so. Among these writers was Francisco Gonzalo Marín, author of El Emisario and El Ruiseñor, who, upon becoming convinced that it was impossible to bring about the independence of Puerto Rico, went to fight for the liberty of another country, and died in the Cuban jungle.

  18. José de Diego, author of Pomarrosas and Cantos de Rebeldía, and Luis Muñoz Rivera, author of Tropicales, may be said to close this era of the Island's literary and intellectual life. Each of these men could have written important lyrical works, if journalism and their devotion to politics had not taken the place of the poet. De Diego embodied his political ideas in a book, Nuevas Campañas, and Muñoz Rivera his in a series of books, Campañas Políticas.

  19. In the last years of the nineteenth century a group of important writers lived on the Island, some of whom had already begun to write under Spanish rule. Among these were Jesús María Lago, author of Cofre de Sándalo; José de Jesús Esteves, whose Sinfonía Helénica is a poem of high lyric quality; and J. P. H.. Hernández, who not only delighted the critics with the technical excellence of his poetry, but won the hearts of the people as well. For these three, literature was an end in itself and never a means. Hernández madrigal A Tus Ojos is considered one of the best in the Spanish language, often being compared with Cetina's classical madrigal, regarded as the best of all.

  20. With the Spanish-American War, the modernist movement in literature spread throughout Latin America, effecting a literary revolution which spread even to Spain. Walt Whitman, the apostle of democracy in the United States, and Ruben Dario, the great lyric poet of the South, were the pontiffs of the new literary creed. This type of literature met with such widespread opposition on the part of the romanticists that they increased the volume of their poetry; but finally they realized that the movement was part of the trend of the times.

  21. Luis Lloréns Torres began to react against the romanticism then characteristic of Puerto Rican literature; José de Diego Padró exploited with great success in his book La Ultima Lámpara de los Dioses the Greek themes, already sung by Rubén Dario, who together with Herrera Reissig had a great influence over de Diego Padró, and the writers of his generation. Others of this group were Antonio Nicolás Blanco, Carlos N. Carreras, author of the drama Juan Ponce de León, written in collaboration with the poet José Ramirez Santibañez; Luis Antonio Miranda; Virgilio Dávila, author of El Pueblito de Antes and Aromas del Terruño, two books which depict the life of the jíbaro and are full of a fresh, earthy savor; Evaristo Rivera Chevremont, and Luis Palés Matos. Miguel Meléndez Muñoz is a witty writer in the classical style. He devotes himself chiefly to sociological studies, but has published a novel, Yuyo and a book of short stories, Cuentos del Cedro.

  22. Of the poets in this group, Lloréns has perhaps the richest lyric vein. In Voces de la Campana Mayor Lloréns has gathered all his love verses, but his most forceful poems, such as Canción de las Antillas and Velas Épicas, have not yet been collected in book form. This poet is best known for his folk-poems in the form of ten-verse lyrical stanzas (décimas). In his poems, unusual in expression of ideas and in the creation of poetic images, he has achieved great lyric heights.

  23. Luis Palés Matos has become known on both continents as a writer of Negro poetry, and his poems have been gathered in a volume, Tum Tum de Pasa y Grifería. Of this writer Tomás Blanco wrote in 1930, "He has produced a series of poems inspired, not exactly by the Negro population of Puerto Rico, but rather by the exotic Negro of travelers, missionaries, slavers, explorers, and ethnographers, with an admixture of Haitian royalty, Cuban ñañigos, childhood reminiscences of slave songs, and other West Indian flavorings."

  24. Evaristo Rivera Chevremont is perhaps the least popular of these three poets, but he is a lyric poet of unquestionable merit, some of his best-known poems being Cristo Rojo, Italia, Tauro, Poemas de la Casa, and Poemas del Color.

  25. Puerto Rico owes the preservation of much of its literature to journalism, as the Island has had few facilities for the printing of books, and writers have often depended on newspapers for the publication of their works. This tradition is still followed, and a great variety of excellent writing is found in the newspapers of today. José de Andino, the first Puerto Rican journalist, flourished after 1757. Manuel Fernández Juncos, one of the leading journalists of Puerto Rico, devoted himself to preserving the literary history of Puerto Rico. Besides writing critical articles, he prepared a valuable anthology of its writers. He is considered the foremost intellectual of the Island in the past three generations. He contended that journalism is the school for prose writers—a school including Luis Muñoz Rivera, Luis Rodriguez Cabrero, Mariano Abril, Nemesio Canales, Juan Braschi, Félix Matos Bernier, and Eugenio Astol.

  26. Previous to 1915 no more than fifteen text books had been published by Puerto Rican authors. The first text book published in the island was the Catecismo de Doctrina Cristiana, which appeared during the 1850's written by Bishop Gil Esteve. In 1866 the Silabario, written by Julio L. Vizcarrondo, was declared a text book. This was a spelling book relying upon ancient methods of learning to read. The same author published the Elementos de Historia y Geografía de Puerto Rico which was made a text book. Among others were Aritmtética Elemental by Emeterio Colón; Ligeras Nociones de Industria by Federico Asenjo; Sistema Métrico by Pascacio Sancerrit; Elementos de Aritmética by Julián Monclova; Silabario and Geografía by Felipe Janer and Geografía y Gramática by Ana Roqué de Duprey.

  27. One of the principal objectives of Commissioner Paul G. Miller as head of the Insular Department of Education during the years 1915-1921 was the fostering and preparation for publication of certain text books by Puerto Rican authors. Since 1917, many important text books have been locally written, and a number of them are in use in the island's public schools. One of these is Doctor Miller's own valuable Historia de Puerto Rico (see Books About Puerto Rico).

  28. Contemporary Puerto Rican writers face a difficult situation, in the most complicated and uncertain era in the history of civilization. Hence the babel of literary voices, among which are heard a few of positive value. Carmen Alicia Cadilla is the author of several books of verse, among which Silencios Diarios is outstanding for the purity of its lyricism; Luis Hernández Aquino, one of the founders of the atalayista (watch-tower) lyric movement has recently employed a style somewhat more vigorous and full-toned than that of his first years. In his verses, as in those of Felipe Arana, there is always a latent tenderness. Recent verses of Hernández do not show the influence of Juan Ramón Jiménez and Enrique Martinez, his chosen masters, characteristic of his earlier work. René Goldman Trujillo devotes himself to proletarian verse somewhat like that of the North American poet, Langston Hughes. Samuel Lugo, author of Donde Caen Las Claridades, is a poet with vigorous characteristics that are beginning to attract attention beyond the Island. He and Joaquín López López, author of A Plena Lumbre, José Joaquín Rivera Chevremont, Carmelina Vizcarrondo, author of Pregón en Llamas, and Juan Antonio Corretjer, are modernistic poets who have a certain analogy with the Spanish lyricists Garcia Lorca, Alberti and Gerardo Diego. Theirs is poetry of a fragmentary pattern, with light and exquisite flashes, lacking however the evidence of study and discipline necessary if the vein is to be developed and not run the risk of suddenly becoming exhausted. The poetry of Manrique Cabrera, author of Poemas de mi Tierra, somewhat resembles that of Goldman Trujillo. His style is more moderate, however, and he shows a greater ambition for dimension, but he occasionally allows himself to be carried away by impulses which rob his work of the accents of his own personality. Altamira Fagot is a poet of strong and daring originality in her erotic lyricism, as is Marta Lomar. Clara Lair in Arras de Cristal attempts to give poetic form to love in its most profound sense. Graciani Miranda Archilla, author of Si de mi Tierra, is perhaps the strongest and most original of this group, and the possessor of well-defined ideas that lend a touch of sureness to his work. Muna Lee, a continental American living in Puerto Rico and writing in English, gained her high reputation as a poet on the mainland. Trinidad Padilla Sanz signs her writings as La Hija del Caribe because her father, a well known poet, made famous the pen name of El Caribe. She has made excellent adaptation of the modern poetical forms. She also is a pianist and a writer in prose. One of her outstanding books is Collar de Lágrimas.

  29. In the field of criticism, Margot Arce's study of Palés Matos shows a comprehensive and analyzing vision, although perhaps her best study is that dealing with Garcilaso de Vega. José Balseiro and Antonio S. Pedreira, the latter dying at an early age in 1939, have identified themselves with the most progressive tendencies of critical thought, and, not content with encouraging Puerto Rican literature, have greatly helped in making it better known beyond Insular boundaries. Balseiro excels in scholarly investigation, Novelistas Españoles Contemporáneos and the second volume of El Vigía being regarded as his best work. In Insularismo, Pedreira carried out the delicate task of analyzing the obscure sources of Puerto Rican psychology. La Novela Indianista and Signos de Ibero-América of Concha Meléndez are important contributions to the literature of criticism. Tomás Blanco, author of Prontuario Histórico de Puerto Rico, exerts a strong influence on contemporary literature both by his teaching at the University and his critical essays. In the fields of folklore and popular life and tradition are, among others, Costumbres de mi Tierra and Poesía Popular Puertorriqueña by Maria Cadilla de Martinez; The Folklore of Puerto Rico by Rafael Ramirez de Arellano; and The Development of the Puerto Rican Jíbaro and His Present Attitude Towards Society, by José C. Rosario.

  30. There is a group which follows, in point of time, Balseiro, Pedreira and Tomás Blanco. Its characteristics are less strongly defined, but among many of its members there is a strong interest in political problems, frequently responsible for their remaining silent over long periods. These youths prefer a kind of lyric prose, but often publish newspaper articles and commentaries on contemporary affairs. Belonging to this group are, among others, José Arnaldo Meyners, José A. Roméu, Rechani Agrait, Manuel Rivera Matos, Samuel R. Quiñones, Géigel Polanco, Emilio Belavel, and Noel Llorens.

  31. Enrique Laguerre is the author of a novel, La Llamarada, the plot of which is laid in the cane fields. This may be the beginning of a new type of literature for Puerto Rico, in which an attempt is made to plumb the depths where the poor live and to express the problems confronting Puerto Rican workers. As a companion to this novel may be cited another, Isla Cerrera, by Manuel Méndez Ballester, who has also written plays such as El Clamor de los Surcos. Another successful play is Esta Noche Juega el Poker by Fernando Sierra Berdecia.

  32. Among contemporary short-story writers, Angel M. Villamil has published a collection, Duelo a Duelo y Otros Cuentos. Emilio S. Belaval is the author of Cuentos de la Universidad, also a collection of short stories. Emilio Huyke and Antonio Cruz y Nieves may be considered their younger literary brethren.

  33. Neither the writers of the past nor the contemporary writers of Puerto Rico have been able to devote themselves exclusively to professional writing. Almost all, except those teaching in the University, have had to earn their living in ways far removed from literature. Writers of the past had to face an indifferent audience, devoting themselves to politics and seeing their work scattered for lack of local publishing houses. Present-day writers also see their efforts dissipated by the same lack of local publishers. The custom whereby an author pays for the printing of his book and then gives away or attempts to sell an edition still obtains in the Island, as yet not penetrated by the belief that the laborer in letters is worthy of his hire. Thus contemporary writers are restricted by the narrow economic circle in which most of them must live. This has forced many to take to journalism, others to depend for their living on a political post. Most of all, Puerto Rican writers feel the lack of local audience—of the enthusiastic circle of readers, however small, to which poets, essayists, and novelists of other countries may address themselves, and from whom they receive understanding and stimulus.


  34. The earliest available record of any theater activity in Puerto Rico is the construction of the Municipal Theater in San Juan, in 1824. Many similar buildings throughout the Island have been converted into motion picture houses, and the Municipal Theater, renamed Teatro Tapia in 1938 after the Puerto Rican librettist, now is used for municipal offices. Previously it had been open to traveling troupes, concert artists, opera, amateur, and professional companies. The erection of the Municipal Theater was suggested by Governor Miguel de la Torre in response to a general demand for a cultural center. The building has a seating capacity of 1,200 and is unusual in that its floor may be raised to the level of the stage. During carnival time the Theater used to be a center of festivities as well as an auditorium for public meetings, a concert hall, and a legitimate theater.

  35. Prior to 1896, when the first theatrical company was organized in San Juan, Spanish stock companies from Havana, Venezuela, Colombia, and Mexico had given performances periodically in the Island. Actors like Calvo, Vico, and Roncoroni appeared at the Municipal Theater, sometimes for a whole month, before leaving to give additional performances in the other principal towns and cities.

  36. Due to the generosity of local patrons, operas have been given with varying frequency since the early 1870's. Companies from Spain and Italy, with such great singers as Antonio Paoli, Maria Barrientos, Titta Ruffo, and Hipólito Lñzaro have visited the Island many times. It was at the Municipal Theater that Adelina Patti made her debut in opera when she was barely fourteen years old.

  37. In 1896, Ulises Loubriel formed the first juvenile stock company, many of whose members later made names for themselves on the Spanish-speaking stage. The Spanish society, known as the Gallician Center, organized an amateur company which gave many performances between 1897-98, and its example was followed by the Casino de Puerto Rico and Casa de España. Performances not only in San Juan but throughout the Island as well have been given by these organizations.

  38. In 1898, a musical-comedy company, the Gira Artistica, was formed by the light-opera soprano Europa Dueño, and directed by Maestro Vizcarrondo. The Unión Artistica, another musical-comedy company, was formed in 1903. Both companies enjoyed great success, not only in Puerto Rico but in other Latin-American countries. About this time Juan Nadal Santa Coloma, Puerto Rican actor who had been well received in Spain and Latin America, organized the popular Compania Hermida musical-comedy company.

  39. In the 1880's writers began to turn their attention to the literature of the theater, among them Tapia y Rivera, Brau, Canales, Pérez Lozada, Lloréns, and others whose works have been produced by Spanish, Puerto Rican, and various amateur stock companies. True regional drama has been written by R. Méndez Quifiones and Matias Gonzalez, in which the jíbaros have been portrayed. In 1933, a group of Americans organized the Little Theatre, and many performances in English have been given. During the life of the FERA, several theatrical companies were organized under the sponsorship of the Emergency Relief Administration.

  40. The motion picture has largely supplanted the legitimate stage in Puerto Rico, but periodic stage productions still draw large audiences. The pictures shown are those exhibited in the United States, with Spanish sub-titles added, as well as occasional pictures spoken in Spanish and French from the Argentine, Mexico, and Europe.


  41. According to Aristides Chavier, noted Puerto Rican pianist and composer, the liturgical chants of the Roman Catholic Church formed the basis of folk music in Puerto Rico. Music was thus the first of the arts to be cultivated in the Island. In the course of its evolution, this popular music, influenced by the rhythm of the dance and the cadence of gesture, became the type of folk music that survives in country districts today, serving as a rich source for more sophisticated composers of the nineteenth century.

  42. During the Dutch invasion in 1625, the libraries and archives of the Episcopate and religious communities were destroyed, including all the literature of sacred music in the first century of the colony. But even before, in 1598, Lord George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, carried away the organ and bells of the Cathedral after looting, the city. The reassembling of a music library was begun in 1660 when the Church created the position of organist and choir leader for the Cathedral of San Juan.

  43. Airs from southern Spain and the northern countries of South America influenced the structure of native music, and their fusion with the rudimentary, almost colorless, primitive musical elements of the aborigines marked the beginning of the Island's musical evolution. The jíbaro orchestras were the precursors in the interpretation of native music, música brava. These troubadour groups traveled from town to town, like the minstrels in Europe. The instruments used were the tiple, cuatro, and bordonúa, peculiarly constructed native guitars of high, medium and low pitch respectively; the güiro, or güicharo, a hollow, bottle-shaped dried gourd, played with a wire fork; and the maracas, round gourds filled with small beans or pebbles, shaken to the tempo of the music. These gourd instruments were adopted from the Indians. This müsica brava (daring music) was known in Spain, and described by Cervantes in his composition La Ilustre Fregona (Illustrious Dishwasher). Diego de Torres Villarcel in one of his romances written in the village style of the peasants of Salamanca speaks of música guapa: "Masses were held three in a row—daring music with more than a thousand instruments all of rare kind."

  44. Early folk compositions consisted of coplas or couplets, décima, a song of ten verses, seis chorreado, a merry 2/4-time song and dance tune, and aguinaldos, or Christmas carols. The present generation has inherited several types of dances with characteristic music. The seis, or seis chorreado, is danced rapidly and interrupted for the recitation of extemporaneous couplets, giving it a charming originality. The melody is reduced to one or two parts of eight measures, and serves as the theme upon which variations are built. Although the tempo designated on the staff is 2/4, the meter of the accompanying movement is a mixture of triple and double rhythm.

  45. The technical structure of the jíbaro waltz is distinct from the ballroom waltz, the melodic phrase being short, with few variations. One note of the accompaniment is often substituted by a beat with the hand on the wooden case of the bordonúa.

  46. The areitos, Indian dance tunes of the Island, appear to have been the aboriginal inspiration for the plena, which became modified partly by Negro tunes. The fundamental melody of the plena (a dance difficult to classify), as in all regional Puerto Rican music, has a decided Spanish strain; it is marked in the resemblance between the plena Santa María and a song composed in the Middle Ages by Alfonso the Wise, King of Spain. The words of the plena are usually octosyllabic and assonant. Following the universal custom the theme touches upon all phases of life—romance, politics, and current events—in fact, anything which appeals to the imagination of the people, such as the arrival of a personage, a crime, a bank moratorium, or a hurricane.

  47. Popular dance tunes prior to the nineteenth century were the garabato, a variation of the Spanish jota; the cadenas, or chains, a musical chorus, like the aboriginal areitos; the mariandti, a Negro dance of rapid and accentuated time; the caballo or horse dance, danced by couples in a whirling manner; the sonduro, a form of clog dance; and the puntillanto, a form of zortzico.

  48. The upa, a Cuban dance popularized in 1849, was prohibited by the Puerto Rican Governor, Don Juan de la Pezuela. The contradanza (quadrille), which had alternated with the upa in social dancing, evolved into the Puerto Rican danza, also called during its evolutionary stages the merengue and the baile a dos (dance for two).

  49. There are two theories concerning the origin of the typically Puerto Rican music of the danza. One establishes its close relation with the caballerezco from Estremadura in western Spain; the other with a form of tango introduced by Spanish loyalists from Venezuela in 1821. Manuel Tavárez (1843-1883) elevated the danza to a high artistic category; and to Julián Andino in 1870 is given credit for its development and typical expression. The melody, serene and sweet in the introduction of the first part, called the paseo, is poetic and aloof, with a touch of Spanish dignity. Its second part, generally spirited to the point of crying out in acute crescendo, seems to rebel against the grief of being sad, being poor, and not being free. The danza is unique as a musical interpretation, having no relation to the music of other countries in Latin America. Its performance in a conventional manner is relatively meaningless, and to be appreciated it should be heard as performed by native musicians, who change its rhythm and structure according to their temperament or mood.

  50. Through the Economic Society of Friends of the Country, Tavárez was enabled to study in the Conservatory of Paris, where he was acclaimed for his Gran Fantasia de Concierto, in which characteristic Puerto Rican airs appeared. Among other compositions that brought him renown is his great triumphal prize march Benedición.

  51. Toward the end of the nineteenth century the danza was instilled with new harmonic breath and deeper melodic variety and feeling by Juan Morell Campos (1856-1896), who won distinction for his transformation and amplification of this popular music. Morell Campos, with his exceptional endowments and musical genius, naturally succeeded Tavárez. He not only wrote numberless danzas, but many instrumental works of merit, including the symphony Puerto Rico. For his march Juegos Florales, a medal and diploma were awarded him at the Buffalo Exposition.

  52. The beautiful and haunting music of the danza La Bonnqueña, the Puerto Rican National anthem, was composed by Félix Astol, a Catalonian. Words were set to it by Lola Rodriguez de Tió soon after the Lares Rebellion in 1868. Because of the patriotic sentiment it embodies and the folk memories it evokes, La Bonnqueña is greatly loved by Puerto Ricans. A military interpretation of it was composed by Luis Miranda (1879) who was appointed bandmaster of the 65th Infantry in 1901. Miranda is the foremost interpreter of the danza today, and has written many melodious compositions, such as Recuerdos de Borinquen.

  53. From 1763 on, practically all the Spanish regiments stationed in Puerto Rico organized bands and gave concerts in the principal plazas. The Asturian Regiment sent from the mother country proved of great significance to musical art in the colony. Its excellent band entertained the people with the best compositions. The Islanders began to take cognizance of the importance of music in their frugal lives, and soon music societies were founded, and piano teachers were to be found in most of the towns. Arecibo was the first city to establish a music school, followed by San Juan and Ponce.

  54. In 1842 Puerto Rico had a wide reputation as a music-loving country. Theatrical companies with talented artists appeared for the first time before local audiences. The renaissance of music gained added stimulus from the visits of the singer Adelina Patti and the pianist and composer Louis Gottschalk.

  55. In 1877, with the visits of Italian opera companies and Spanish dramatists, contact between the foreign artists and local talent broadened and stimulated the progress of music and developed the artistic taste of both musicians and the public.

  56. The Spanish music critic Cortijo Alahija deals at length in his work Música Popular with the advanced musical art in Puerto Rico during this period. He speaks of the abundant potential musical talent; of the wholehearted support of the public in general; of the innumerable contests, great incentives in themselves to the enrichment of musical culture; and of a select group of native artists who greatly contributed to the musical world.

  57. The orchestra of the Philharmonic Society, maintained by the Salavarría, Montilla, and Travieso families, which lasted until the end of the century, ably interpreted symphonies, musical dramas and chamber music. The native opera Guarionex, with words by Alejandro Tapia y Rivera and music by Felipe Gutiérrez Espinosa, was presented by them and a group of enthusiastic amateurs.

  58. Among Puerto Rican musicians and composers, many are worthy of especial mention.

  59. Francisco Cortés, pianist and composer, is best known for his dramatic and descriptive compositions, among which are Nuit de Nöel, played for the first time in Paris, where he studied, and Une Fête á Cuba, an orchestral arrangement. Braulio Dueño Colón's compositions reflect the regional music of the Island. He composed several overtures and an orchestral work, Ecos de mi Tierra (Echoes of my Country). His best danzas are Delia y Belén and Patria.

  60. José I. Quintón, pianist and composer, wrote a string quartet, variations on a classical theme of John Hummel, and a Triumphal March. Aristides Chavier composed many works for orchestra, band, piano and string instruments. Angel Mislán was born in Barceloneta. He played the clarinet and the bombardino. He was considered by some a virtuoso and certainly did more for music in Puerto Rico by his intense interest and enthusiasm, than almost any other individual. As a composer he is well known for his danzas Sara Is and Tu y Yo. He wrote a great many other pieces which were never published. As a band musician he was beloved throughout the Island.

  61. In 1898, with the change in sovereignty, all musical endeavors temporarily ceased in the Island. The Spanish Government had subsidized bands, orchestras, and other musical activities, as is customary in European countries. There was no provision under the American Government for such subsidies. In time, laws were passed permitting the various municipalities to subsidize bands, and years later the Insular Government established a system of scholarships for art students.

  62. Then the 65th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico established a splendid band, and the Island once more was able to enjoy concerts at the principal plaza in San Juan. The Police Band, reputed one of the best in Spanish America, was dissolved in 1914. From time to time recitals were given by local and itinerant artists, and even symphony orchestras were organized for limited periods of time.

  63. In 1915 the Club Armdnico was organized at San Juan to give regular Sunday concerts of chamber and symphonic music under the direction of leaders Miranda and Ern. The Philharmonic Society was revived in 1922 with Manuel Tizol as director, but was discontinued the following year. It was not until 1932, however, that with the formation of Pro Arte Musical de Puerto Rico in San Juan an attempt was made to present concerts with regular frequency. Until 1936 membership in the Society was small and the concerts were principally by local talent. Since then, the Society has grown to more than 1,400 members and many world-famous artists have been presented at its concerts. A similar society with 500 members exists in Ponce and another one with 400 members in Mayagüez. Attempts are being made to organize similar societies in other cities of the Island and also to establish a working agreement with other West Indian Islands to form a cultural link. A symphony orchestra on a permanent basis is in process of organization.

  64. Since 1933 the University of Puerto Rico has given great emphasis to the musical department. A promising chorus has been organized under the direction of Augusto Rodriguez and public concerts are given by its members. The Polytechnic Institute has also an excellent chorus. Making up for past indifference, the Insular Government has again created scholarships for Island musicians to study in the United States and Europe. Federal music projects, under the auspices of the Fine Arts Department of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration on the Island, established three bands at San Juan, Ponce and Mayagüez. It was hoped in 1940 that music projects would again be established under the Puerto Rico Work Projects Administration.

  65. Puerto Rico has produced singers and instrumental musicians of a high rank, some attaining international fame, among them Antonio Paoli, world famed tenor, and his sister Amalia, soprano; the pianist Jesus Maria Sanromá, José and Kachiro Figueroa, violinists who won high honors in Europe; Countess Albani (Olga Hernández), well known in radio and concert; and many others. Among contemporary musicians is Elisa Tavarez Vda. de Storer, a pianist who started her career very early. In the Madrid Conservatory she won first prize in solfeggio and harmony and first and second prizes in piano. She is considered one of the Island's foremost interpreters of Chopin. Rafael Hernández is an exceedingly popular music composer and instrumentalist. Born in Aguadilla, he has written many pieces which are popular throughout Latin America, including Lamento Borincano, Los Carreteros, and El Buen Borincano. His songs include three types: songs of the beauty of his land; songs of social and patriotic sentiment; and songs of the people.

  66. The twentieth century is the epoch when by right Puerto Rico should be one of the foremost countries in the world in musical culture. Sad to say, this is not the case. The folk music raised to such great heights by Tavirez, Heradio Ramos, Dueño Colón, Quintón, Andino, and especially Morell Campos, is all too frequently supplanted by imported compositions foreign to Latin culture and to the melodic, rhythmic construction and cadence that characterize the danza.


  67. Little is known concerning the graphic arts of the aboriginal Indians. Painting was limited to tattooing, probably because of the belief in sympathetic magic. The Boriqueños knew how to boil certain plants and fruits to obtain pigments, and how to use the white of calciums and probably light reds and yellows from baked clay. For a binding medium they used the juice of the jagua fruit.

  68. Puerto Rican painting can hardly be said to have existed before José Campeche (1752-1809), the son of a San Juan gilder and decorator. Campeche's career is even more remarkable considering the fact that most of his best work was done without benefit of instruction. It is said that he prepared all his own pigments, extracting color from whatever natural sources were available. His skill in making and applying paint is indicated by the brilliant richness of coloring still apparent in some of his work completed one hundred and fifty years ago. Campeche usually painted on wood panels that he carefully prepared. At times he painted on copper, but there is no record that he ever put brush to a canvas. Most of his subjects were religious-saints and madonnas. His style is so characteristic that his paintings are easily identified.

  69. When Don Luis Parat Alcazar, celebrated court painter, was deported from Spain and came to Puerto Rico, Campeche and he became fast friends, Campeche learning much of painting from his friend. Many of Campeche's paintings are to be found not only in Puerto Rico but in Santo Domingo, Cuba, and Venezuela. The titles reveal his favorite themes: La Caída del Ángel (The Angel's Fall); La Concepción o la Reina de los Ángeles (The Conception, or the Queen of the Angels); La Virgén de Belén (The Virgin of Bethlehem). The latter is in the Chapel of Our Lady of Bethlehem, in San José Church, San Juan. Campeche's works show the devout simplicity of a deeply religious nature. Occasionally he painted secular scenes, such as The British Siege and Power's Shipwreck.

  70. Francisco Oller (1833-1917), born almost a hundred years after Campeche, showed exceptional talent from the age of twelve, and training by Spanish and French masters greatly developed it. Still under the influence which had dominated the earlier school of artists, much of Oller's first work was done for churches and religious orders. As he matured, he gradually turned to landscapes and portraits. In 1851 OIler went to Madrid for further study, and entered the School of Fine Arts of San Fernando, where his master was Don Federico Madrazo, leading painter of the day. After seven years under Madrazo, Oller went to Paris where he studied with Thomas Couture for three years. Later he studied under Gustave Courbet.

  71. In 1878 Oller held an exhibition in Spain, receiving not only recognition from the public but the decoration of the Cross of Charles III from the King. Many of his pictures were purchased by the Spanish nobility and aristocracy; others were sent to the Paris Salon.

  72. Oller was a realist who did much to modernize the conception of art. His large painting El Velorio (The Wake), approximately four by six feet, depicts the mingled mourning and festivities following the death of a jíbaro. It was first exhibited in Havana, later in Paris, and finally it became the property of Federico Degetau who bequeathed it to the University of Puerto Rico, where it now hangs.

  73. Oller's paintings, particularly his portraits of Manuel de Elzaburu, General Baldrich, Manuel Corchado, and José Gautier Benítez, are lifelike characterizations. Many drawing and painting schools in San Juan were founded at his instigation.

  74. Not at all concerned with the Puerto Rican scene was Adolfo Marín Molinas (1858- date of death unknown), who left the Island in his early teens, never to return. In 1894 he sent his painting Celos (Jealousy) to the San Juan exposition, where it won a gold medal. Extasis won him another gold medal in Spain, and Memories of Holland a prize at Vichy. Facile in brushwork and coloring, conventional in his choice of subject, he was a salon favorite.

  75. Among contemporary artists in Puerto Rico, Manuel Jordán is noted for his paintings of landscapes. Mario Brau is a prominent water-colorist and pen-and-ink artist. Brau attended the School of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid and received instruction from Cecilio Plá and Pellicor. His water colors were exhibited in 1892 at the biannual exposition of the Círculo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Club) held in Spain. Another Puerto Rican artist is Ramón Frade who studied in Italy and was a pupil of. The Dominican painter Desangles. Some of his works are El Pan Nuestro (Our Daily Bread), Reverie, and La Inmaculada (The Immaculate).

  76. Other artists worthy of mention are George Amy, known for his sketches and water colors; Juan M. Ríos, landscape painter; Angel Olivera, caricaturist and designer; Gilberto González Seijo, Arturo Font, Librado Net, and Oscar Colón. Horacio Castaing painted a striking series of portraits of country types.

  77. Among contemporary artists are Miguel Pou, painter of both landscapes and figures; Quero Chiesa, who paints pictures of the jíbaro; and Rafael Palacios, whose work has received critical attention and recognition in Havana and New York. Palacios' Noche de San Ciprián (San Ciprían Night) was exhibited in the National Exhibition of American Art, and is a striking study of jíbaros cowering in a hut as a hurricane rages. Palacios usually takes his theme from proletarian life. Other contemporaries are J. Rosado, S. N. Garcia González, F. A. Guillermety, José Maduro, Félix Bonilla, Luis Padial, Rafael Ríos Rey, José Rafael Julia, Gonzalo Fernós, Ramón Frade, Oscar Colón Delgado, Luisa Didonez, and the caricaturists Eolo, C. Filardi, and Tony Villamil. The premature death of Rafael Arroyo Gely robbed the Island of a brilliant watercolorist.

  78. Asked why Puerto Rico, with its brilliance and contrast of color and landscape, should have produced so few painters, the Spanish artist Ignacio Zuloaga once replied, "It is because you do not see enough pictures," adding, "Natural beauty is not enough. Artists learn from contact with art." This was in the early 1920's. Since that time, the Art Department of the University of Puerto Rico under the direction of Walt Dehner has held an important series of art exhibitions that have done much to encourage young artists. Since 1929 these exhibitions have been annual events— sometimes devoted to Puerto Rican art and history, sometimes to the work of Spanish-American artists, sometimes to graphic artists of North America and Europe. Only eight artists of the Island exhibited in the First Exhibition of Puerto Rican Art and History in 1929, attended by 1,400 visitors. Fifty-nine Island artists exhibited in the First Independent Exhibition of Puerto Rican Art in 1936, attended by 10,000 visitors. This exhibition afforded striking proof of the importance to Puerto Rican artists of these annual shows. The memorial exhibit was devoted to the lyrical watercolors of Arroyo Gely, a talented youth who died at twenty; his work was the direct outcome of the art exhibitions at the University—the only ones he was ever to see. At the Third Exhibition of Puerto Rican Art in 1933, the Bouret gold medal for the best work of a native artist was awarded to Miguel Pou for a group consisting of three nude studies in sanguine and three portraits in oil.

  79. The Federico Degetau collection, bequeathed to the University by the first Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in Washington, and including canvases both by Puerto Rican and European artists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, was restored in 1935 by Franz Howanietz, brilliant young Viennese painter and restorer. Funds for this important and difficult task were made available by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.

  80. Other collections of paintings of interest to visitors are the series of portraits of early bishops in the Bishop's Palace, San Juan, early religious paintings in many of the churches, and the collection of portraits of some of the Island's leading figures, painted by local and foreign artists, in the Puerto Rico Atheneum, San Juan.

  81. The competition in 1939 for a mural in the Mayagüez Post Office, sponsored by the Fine Arts Division of the United States Treasury Department, was won by José A. Maduro. The climate of Puerto Rico is ideal for fresco, and Puerto Ricans hoped that other buildings would be decorated by Puerto Rican artists. The extension of the Work Projects Administration to Puerto Rico in 1940 also made possible the encouraging of young artists along the lines that have brought such successful results on the mainland.

  82. Interesting sculpture has been accomplished and exhibited by Tomás Ballesteros, Miguel Ferrer Rincón, Miguel Ferrer Otero, and Alberto Vadi.


  83. The first printing press in Puerto Rico was imported between 1806 and 1808. Prior to that time news from the outside world came chiefly through Spanish journals received at irregular intervals. Establishment in 1831 of cable communication with other islands of the West Indies and France brought the Island into closer contact with Europe.

  84. La Gaceta de Puerto Rico, generally considered the first newspaper on the Island, was started about 1807 as the official organ of the government and continued for 91 years, throughout the period of Spanish sovereignty. It was not a newspaper in the modern sense, for it published chiefly the decrees, edicts, and records of the government, but throughout its life it was an important source of information of official character.

  85. The Spanish constitution of 1812 extended new rights to the Island, including freedom of press and speech. As a result, in the years immediately following, several newspapers were started which were free to express the prevailing opinion of the time. El Diario Económico (1814), was the first of them. El Cigarrón (1814), El Investigador (1820), El Diario Liberal (1821), and El Eco (1822) followed within a decade, the third of these being the first to attempt daily publication. In 1839 El Boletín Mercantil was started and continued for 79 years to be an important conservative daily, particularly in the business and political field.

  86. By 1865, eight newspapers were being published, but a law passed in that year required the deposit of a bond of 2,000 pesos from each newspaper as a guarantee against improper publication of information, affecting either individuals or the government. This caused the suspension of most of the Island's newspapers. It was some years before modification of the law aroused new interest in the publishing field, as all publications were constantly under close scrutiny by the government.

  87. Not counting the ones already in existence, 29 new journals (daily and weekly) were published in 1897, 42 in 1898, and 56 in 1899. From the beginning newspapers played a large part in spreading the political ideas and aspirations of individual leaders, and until the past two decades most of them were personal or party organs. Possibly because of this tendency, organizations—political, economic, or cultural—attempt to publish their own organs for propaganda rather than seek an outlet for it in the established press. This has resulted in many publications, most of them short-lived.

  88. La Democracia, founded in 1890 by Luis Muñoz Rivera, and La Correspondencia, started the same year, both published in San Juan, are the oldest newspapers still published in Puerto Rico. La Democracia was for many years the official organ of the Liberal Party. It began at Ponce; in 1900 it moved to Caguas and in 1904 to San Juan. La Correspondencia, an independent, has had continuous publication in San Juan as a daily paper.

  89. Weekly journals and reviews have played as large a part in making and recording the Island's history as have the daily newspapers. It is to journalism that Puerto Rico owes the preservation of much of its literature. Some of the reviews, pictorial and otherwise, have attained a high degree of excellence, while in specialized and technical fields—particularly medicine and agriculture—Island journals have reported results of original research of importance to the tropical world.

  90. Puerto Rico in 1940 had more than 29 newspapers and other publications well enough established to be generally recognized. Of these, ten are daily newspapers, seven of them published in San Juan. El Mundo and El Imparcial both publish daily English editions and La Correspondencia has an English page. The Puerto Rico World Journal is wholly in English. Otherwise Spanish is used exclusively. El Mundo and El Imparcial lead in circulation throughout the Island. There are approximately a score of weeklies and periodical publications devoted to such specialized fields as business, agriculture, religion, fraternal orders, law, and medicine. (For a list of newspapers and magazines, see General Information.)


  91. Amateur and wireless telegraphic experiments in Puerto Rico were initiated at San Juan in 1912. The first radio telegraphic station was established in 1920 in the town of Carolina. In 1940 there were 64 licensed amateur radio stations and four broadcasting stations licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, and sustained mainly by commercial programs. Station WKAQ was established at San Juan in 1922 by the Porto Rico Telephone Company. It was operated experimentally for several years before attempting to broadcast definite programs on a fixed schedule. Station WNEL, also in San Juan, began to operate in November, 1934. Station WRRP is located at Ponce, WPRA in Mayagüez.

  92. These stations broadcast musical and cultural programs, news, and commercial advertising, chiefly in Spanish. Some programs are given in English, such as world news, a daily woman's hour on WKAQ, and a variety hour over WNEL. These programs are heard daily in the other West Indian Islands, and frequently in Venezuela. Listeners in Europe and Honolulu have reported favorable reception of test programs transmitted by WNEL.

  93. The Department of Education conducts a "School of the Air," providing a varied program of instruction and entertainment, using the facilities of the commercial stations for its broadcasts. Simple lessons in English have been included, and at times brief dramatic sketches. The Agricultural Extension Service, supported jointly by the Insular and Federal governments, has a weekly radio hour with a program devoted chiefly to topics of interest to the farmer. Recordings of programs in Spanish which were presented by a member of the staff of the University of Puerto Rico have been sent to the United States to initiate a short-wave re-broadcast, enabling Puerto Rico to participate in inter-American broadcasting.

  94. Since 1935 the Radio Laboratory of the University of Puerto Rico has conducted scientific studies of radio transmission and static in Puerto Rico which have been reported in numerous scientific articles presented, by Dr. G. W. Kenrik, Professor of Physics of the University of Puerto Rico, in collaboration with his co-workers. This program has included the study of the relationship between the origin of static and the motion of storm disturbances such as hurricanes. It was the object of this investigation to determine the feasibility of tracing the motion of these disturbances by means of this associated static, a development of great importance to the Weather Bureau as a supplementary predictional method. These experiments have been supported by a project under the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, and a report of progress was published by Dr. Kenrick in 1938, in the Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, under the auspices of the National Research Council (section of Meteorology).