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The History of Puerto Rico From the Spanish Discovery to the American Occupation online

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and creeks where ships of heavy draft may come to anchor. On the north
coast, during the months of November, December, and January, when the
wind blows sometimes with violence from the east and northeast, the
anchorage is dangerous in all the bays and harbors of that coast,
except in the port of San Juan.

On the western coast the spacious bay of Aguadilla is formed by Cape
Borrigua and Cape San Francisco. When the southeast winds prevail it
is _not_ a safe anchorage for ships.

Mayaguez is also an open roadstead on the west coast formed by two
projecting capes. It has good anchorage for vessels of large size and
is well sheltered from the north winds.

The south coast also abounds in bays and harbors, but those which
deserve particular attention are the ports of Guánica and Hobos, or
Jovos, near Guayama. In Guánica vessels drawing 21 feet of water may
enter with perfect safety and anchor close to the shore. Hobos or
Jovos is a haven of considerable importance; sailing vessels of the
largest class may anchor and ride in safety; it has 4 fathoms of water
in the shallowest part of the entrance, but it is difficult to enter
from June to November as the sea breaks with violence at the entrance
on account of the southerly winds which prevail at this season.

All the large islands in the tropics enjoy approximately the same
climate. The heat, the rains, the seasons, are, with trifling
variations, the same in all, but the number of mountains and running
streams, the absence of stagnant waters and general cultivation of the
land in Puerto Rico do, probably, powerfully contribute to purify the
atmosphere and render it more salubrious to Europeans than it
otherwise would be. In the mountains one enjoys the coolness of
spring, but the valleys, were it not for the daily breeze which blows
from the northeast and east, would be almost uninhabitable for white
men during part of the year. The climate of the north and south coasts
of this island, though under the same tropical influence, is
nevertheless essentially different. On the north coast it sometimes
rains almost the whole year, while on the south coast sometimes no
rain falls for twelve or fourteen months. On the whole, Puerto Rico is
one of the healthiest islands in the West Indies, nor is it infested
to the same extent as other islands by poisonous snakes and other
noxious reptiles. The laborer may sleep in peace and security in the
midst of the forest, by the side of the river, or in the meadow with
his cattle with no other fear than that of an occasional centipede or
guabuá (large hairy spider).

Unlike most tropical islands there are no indigenous quadrupeds and
scarcely any of the feathered tribe in the forests. On the rivers
there are a few water-fowl and in the forests the green parrot. There
are neither monkeys nor rabbits, but rats and mongooses infest the
country and sometimes commit dreadful ravages in the sugar-cane. Ants
of different species also abound.



The origin of the primitive inhabitants of the West Indian Archipelago
has been the subject of much learned controversy, ending, like all
such discussions, in different theories and more or less verisimilar

It appears that at the time of the discovery these islands were
inhabited by three races of different origin. One of these races
occupied the Bahamas. Columbus describes them as simple, generous,
peaceful creatures, whose only weapon was a pointed stick or cane.
They were of a light copper color, well-proportioned but slender,
rather good-looking, with aquiline noses, salient cheek-bones,
medium-sized mouths, long coarse hair. They had, perhaps, formerly
occupied the eastern part of the archipelago, whence they had
gradually disappeared, driven or exterminated by the Caribs, Caribós,
or Guáribos, a savage, warlike, and cruel race, which had invaded the
West Indies from the continent by way of the Orinoco, along the
tributaries of which river tribes of the same race are still to be
found. The larger Antilles, Cuba, Santo Domingo, and Puerto Rico, were
occupied by a race which probably originated from some part of the
southern division of the northern continent. The chroniclers mention
the Guaycures and others as their possible ancestors, and Stahl traces
their origin to a mixture of the Phoenicians with the aborigines of
remote antiquity.

The information which we possess with regard to the habits and customs
of the inhabitants of Boriquén at the time of discovery is too scanty
and too unreliable to permit us to form more than a speculative
opinion of the degree of culture attained by them.

Friar Abbad, in the fourth chapter of his history, gives us a
description of the character and customs of the people of Boriquén
taken wholly from the works of Oviedo, Herrera, Robertson, Raynal, and

Like most of the aboriginal inhabitants of America, the natives of
Boriquén were copper-colored, but somewhat darker than the inhabitants
of the neighboring islands. They were shorter of stature than the
Spaniards, but corpulent and well-proportioned, with flat noses, wide
nostrils, dull eyes, bad teeth, narrow foreheads, the skull
artificially flattened before and behind so as to give it a conical
shape, with long, black, coarse hair, beardless and hairless on the
rest of the body. Says Oviedo: " ... Their heads were not like other
people's, their skulls were so hard and thick that the Christians by
fighting with them have learned not to strike them on the head because
the swords break."

Their whole appearance betrayed a lazy, indolent habit, and they
showed extreme aversion to labor or fatigue of any kind. They put
forth no exertion save what was necessary to obtain food, and only
rose from their "hamácas" or "jamácas," or shook off their habitual
indolence to play a game of ball (batey) or attend the dances
(areytos) which were accompanied by rude music and the chanting of
whatever happened to occupy their minds at the time.

Notwithstanding their indolence and the unsubstantial nature of their
food, they were comparatively strong and robust, as they proved in
many a personal tussle with the Spaniards.

Clothing was almost unknown. Only the women of mature age used an
apron of varying length, the rest, without distinction of age or sex,
were naked. They took great pains in painting their bodies with all
sorts of grotesque figures, the earthy coloring matter being laid on
by means of oily or resinous substances extracted from plants or

These coats of paint, when fresh, served as holiday attire, and
protected them from the bites of mosquitoes and other insects. The
dandies among them added to this airy apparel a few bright feathers in
their hair, a shell or two in their ears and nostrils. And the
caciques wore a disk of gold (guarim) the size of a large medal round
their necks to denote their rank.

The huts were built square or oblong, raised somewhat above the
ground, with only one opening for entrance and exit, cane being the
principal building material. The chief piece of furniture was the
"hamáca," made with creepers or strips of bark of the "emajágua" tree.
The "totúmo" or "jigüera" furnished them with their domestic
utensils, as it furnishes the "jíbaro" of to-day with his cups and
jugs and basins. Their mode of making fire was the universal one
practised by savages. Their arms were the usual macána and bow and
arrows, but they did not poison the arrows as did the Caribs. The
largest of their canoes, or "piráguas," could contain from 40 to 50
men, and served for purposes of war, but the majority of their canoes
were of small size used in navigating the coast and rivers.

There being no mammals in the island, they knew not the use of flesh
for food, but they had abundance of fish, and they ate besides
whatever creeping or crawling thing they happened to find. These with
the yucca from which they made their casabe or bread, maize, yams, and
other edible roots, constituted their food supply.

There were in Boriquén, as there are among all primitive races,
certain individuals, the embryos of future church functionaries, who
were medicine-man, priest, prophet, and general director of the moral
and intellectual affairs of the benighted masses, but that is all we
know of them.[60]


[Footnote 60: For further information on this subject, see Estudios
Ethnologicos sobre los indios Boriqueños, by A. Stahl, 1888. Revista
Puertoriqueña, Año II, tomo II.]



"There is in this island a class of inhabitants, not the least
numerous by any means, who dwell in swamps and marshes, live on
vegetables, and drink muddy water." So wrote Dr. Richard Rey[61] a
couple of decades ago, and, although, under the changed political and
social conditions, these people, as a class, will soon disappear, they
are quite numerous still, and being the product of the peculiar social
and political conditions of a past era deserve to be known.

To this considerable part of the population of Puerto Rico the name of
"jíbaros" is applied; they are the descendants of the settlers who in
the early days of the colonization of the island spread through the
interior, and with the assistance of an Indian or negro slave or two
cleared and cultivated a piece of land in some isolated locality,
where they continued to live from day to day without troubling
themselves about the future or about what passed in the rest of the

The modern jíbaro builds his "bohío," or hut, in any place without
regard to hygienic conditions, and in its construction follows the
same plan and uses the same materials employed in their day by the
aboriginal inhabitants. This "bohío" is square or oblong in form,
raised on posts two or three feet from the ground, and the materials
are cane, the trunks of the coco-palm, entire or cut into boards, and
the bark of another species of palm, the "yaguas," which serves for
roofing and walls. The interior of these huts is sometimes divided by
a partition of reeds into two apartments, in one of which the family
sit by day. The other is the sleeping room, where the father, mother,
and children, male and female, of all ages, sleep, promiscuously
huddled together on a platform of boards or bar bacao.

The majority of the jíbaros are whites. Mestizoes, mulattos, and
negroes are numerous also. But we are here concerned with the jíbaro
of European descent only, whose redemption from a degraded condition
of existence it is to the country's interest should be specially
attended to.

Mr. Francisco del Valle Atilés, one of Puerto Rico's distinguished
literary men, has left us a circumstantial description of the
character and conditions of these rustics.[62] He divides them into
three groups: those living in the neighborhood of the large sugar and
coffee estates, who earn their living working as peons; the second
group comprises the small proprietors who cultivate their own patch of
land, and the third, the comparatively well-to-do individuals or
small proprietors who usually prefer to live as far as possible from
the centers of population.

The jíbaro, as a rule, is well formed, slender, of a delicate
constitution, slow in his movements, taciturn, and of a sickly aspect.
Occasionally, in the mountainous districts, one meets a man of
advanced age still strong and robust doing daily work and mounting on
horseback without effort. Such a one will generally be found to be of
pure Spanish descent, and to have a numerous family of healthy,
good-looking children, but the appearance of the average jíbaro is as
described. He looks sickly and anemic in consequence of the
insufficient quantity and innutritious quality of the food on which he
subsists and the unhealthy conditions of his surroundings. Rice,
plantains, sweet potatoes, maize, yams, beans, and salted fish
constitute his diet year in year out, and although there are Indian
races who could thrive perhaps on such frugal fare, the effect of such
a _régime_ on individuals of the white race is loss of muscular energy
and a consequent craving for stimulants.

His clothing, too, is scanty. He wears no shoes, and when drenched
with rain or perspiration he will probably let his garments dry on his
body. For the empty feeling in his stomach, the damp and the cold to
which he is thus daily exposed, his antidotes are tobacco and rum, the
first he chews and smokes. In the use of the second he seldom goes to
the extent of intoxication.

Under these conditions, and considering his absolute ignorance and
consequent neglect of the laws of hygiene, it is but natural that the
Puerto Rican peasant should be subject to the ravages of paludal
fever, one of the most dangerous of the endemic diseases of the

Friar Abbad observes: " ... No cure has yet been discovered (1781) for
the intermittent fevers which are often from four to six years in
duration. Those who happen to get rid of them recover very slowly;
many remain weak and attenuated; the want of nutritious food and the
climate conduce to one disease or another, so that those who escape
the fever generally die of dropsy."

However, the at first sight apathetic and weak jíbaro, when roused to
exertion or when stimulated by personal interest or passion, can
display remarkable powers of endurance. Notwithstanding his reputation
of being lazy, he will work ten or eleven hours a day if fairly
remunerated. Under the Spanish _régime_, when he was forced to present
himself on the plantations to work for a few cents from sunrise to
sundown, he was slow; or if he was of the small proprietor class, he
had to pay an enormous municipal tax on his scanty produce, so that it
is very likely that he may often have preferred swinging in his
hammock to laboring in the fields for the benefit of the municipal

Mr. Atilés refers to the premature awakening among the rustic
population of this island of the procreative instincts, and the
consequent increase in their numbers notwithstanding the high rate of
mortality. The fecundity of the women is notable; from six to ten
children in a family seems to be the normal number.

[Illustration: A tienda, or small shop.]

Intellectually the jíbaro is as poor as he is physically. His
illiteracy is complete; his speech is notoriously incorrect; his
songs, if not of a silly, meaningless character, are often obscene;
sometimes they betray the existence of a poetic sentiment. These songs
are usually accompanied by the music of a stringed instrument of the
guitar kind made by the musician himself, to which is added the
"güiro," a kind of ribbed gourd which is scraped with a small stick to
the measure of the tune, and produces a noise very trying to the
nerves of a person not accustomed to it.

In religion the jíbaro professes Catholicism with a large admixture of
fetichism. His moral sense is blunt in many respects.

Colonel Flinter[63] gives the following description of the jíbaros of
his day, which also applies to them to-day:

"They are very civil in their manners, but, though they seem all
simplicity and humility, they are so acute in their dealings that they
are sure to deceive a person who is not very guarded. Although they
would scorn to commit a robbery, yet they think it only fair to
deceive or overreach in a bargain. Like the peasantry of Ireland, they
are proverbial for their hospitality, and, like them, they are ever
ready to fight on the slightest provocation. They swing themselves to
and fro in their hammocks all day long, smoking their cigars or
scraping a guitar. The plantain grove which surrounds their houses,
and the coffee tree which grows almost without cultivation, afford
them a frugal subsistence. If with these they have a cow and a horse,
they consider themselves rich and happy. Happy indeed they are; they
feel neither the pangs nor remorse which follow the steps of
disappointed ambition nor the daily wants experienced by the poor
inhabitants of northern regions."

This entirely materialistic conception of happiness which, it is
certain, the Puerto Rican peasant still entertains, is now giving way
slowly but surely before the new influences that are being brought to
bear on himself and on his surroundings. The touch of education is
dispelling the darkness of ignorance that enveloped the rural
districts of this island until lately; industrial activity is placing
the means of greater comfort within the reach of every one who cares
to work for them; the observance of the laws of health is beginning to
be enforced, even in the bohío, and with them will come a greater
morality. In a word, in ten years the Puerto Rican jíbaro will have
disappeared, and in his place there will be an industrious,
well-behaved, and no longer illiterate class of field laborers, with a
nobler conception of happiness than that to which they have aspired
for many generations.


[Footnote 61: Estudio sobre el paludismo en Puerto Rico.]

[Footnote 62: El campesino Puertoriqueño, sus condiciones, etc.
Revista Puertoriqueña, vols. ii, iii, 1887, 1888.]

[Footnote 63: An Account of the Present State of the Island of Puerto
Rico. London, 1834.]



During the initial period of conquest and colonization, no Spanish
females came to this or any other of the conquered territories.
Soldiers, mariners, monks, and adventurers brought no families with
them; so that by the side of the aboriginals and the Spaniards "pur
sang" there sprang up an indigenous population of mestizos.

The result of the union of two physically, ethically, and
intellectually widely differing races is _not_ the transmission to the
progeny of any or all of the superior qualities of the progenitor, but
rather his own moral degradation. The mestizos of Spanish America, the
Eurasians of the East Indies, the mulattoes of Africa are moral, as
well as physical hybrids in whose character, as a rule, the worst
qualities of the two races from which they spring predominate. It is
only in subsequent generations, after oft-repeated crossings and
recrossings, that atavism takes place, or that the fusion of the two
races is finally consummated through the preponderance of the
physiological attributes of the ancestor of superior race.

The early introduction of negro slaves, almost exclusively males, the
affinity between them and the Indians, the state of common servitude
and close, daily contact produced another race. By the side of the
mestizo there grew up the zambo. Later, when negro women were brought
from Santo Domingo or other islands, the mulatto was added.

Considering the class to which the majority of the first Spanish
settlers in this island belonged, the social status resulting from
these additions to their number could be but little superior to that
of the aboriginals themselves.

The necessity of raising that status by the introduction of white
married couples was manifest to the king's officers in the island, who
asked the Government in 1534 to send them 50 such couples. It was not
done. Fifty bachelors came instead, whose arrival lowered the moral
standard still further.

It was late in the island's history before the influx of respectable
foreigners and their families began to diffuse a higher ethical tone
among the creoles of the better class. Unfortunately, the daily
contact of the lower and middle classes with the soldiers of the
garrison did not tend to improve their character and manners, and the
effects of this contact are clearly traceable to-day in the manners
and language of the common people.

From the crossings in the first degree of the Indian, negro, and white
races, and their subsequent recrossings, there arose in course of time
a mixed race of so many gradations of color that it became difficult
in many instances to tell from the outward appearance of an individual
to what original stock he belonged; and, it being the established
rule in all Spanish colonies to grant no civil or military employment
above a certain grade to any but Peninsulars or their descendants of
pure blood, it became necessary to demand from every candidate
documentary evidence that he had no Indian or negro blood in his
veins. This was called presenting an "expediente de sangre," and the
practise remained in force till the year 1870, when Marshal Serrano
abolished it.

Whether it be due to atavism, or whether, as is more likely, the
Indians did not really become extinct till much later than the period
at which it is generally supposed their final fusion into the two
exotic races took place,[64] it is certain that Indian characteristics,
physical and ethical, still largely prevail among the rural population
of Puerto Rico, as observed by Schoelzer and other ethnologists.

The evolution of a new type of life is now in course of process. In
the meantime, we have Mr. Salvador Brau's authority[65] for stating
the general character of the present generation of Puerto Ricans to be
made up of the distinctive qualities of the three races from which
they are descended, to wit: indolence, taciturnity, sobriety,
disinterestedness, hospitality, inherited from their Indian ancestors;
physical endurance, sensuality, and fatalism from their negro
progenitors; and love of display, love of country, independence,
devotion, perseverance, and chivalry from their Spanish sires.

A somewhat sarcastic reference to the characteristics due to the
Spanish blood in them was made in 1644 by Bishop Damian de Haro in a
letter to a friend, wherein, speaking of his diocesans, he says that
they are of very chivalric extraction, for, "he who is not descended
from the House of Austria is related to the Dauphin of France or to
Charlemagne." He draws an amusing picture of the inhabitants of the
capital, saying that at the time there were about 200 males and 4,000
women "between black and mulatto." He complains that there are no
grapes in the country; that the melons are red, and that the butcher
retails turtle meat instead of beef or pork; yet, says he, "my table
is a bishop's table for all that."

To a lady in Santo Domingo he sent the following sonnet:

This is a small island, lady,
With neither money nor provisions;
The blacks go naked as they do yonder,
And there 're more people in the Seville prison.
The Castilian coats of arms
Are conspicuous by their absence,
But there are plenty cavaliers
Who deal in hides and ginger,
There's water in the tanks, when 't rains,
A cathedral, but no priests,
Handsome women, but not elegant,
Greed and envy are indigenous.
Plenty of heat and palm-tree shade,
And best of all a refreshing breeze.

Of the moral defects of the people it would be invidious to speak.
The lower classes are not remarkable for their respect for the
property of others. On the subject of morality among the rural
population we may cite Count de Caspe, the governor's report to the
king: " ... Destitute as they are of religious instruction and moral
restraint, their unions are without the sanction of religious or civil
law, and last just as long as their sensual appetites last; it may
therefore be truly said, that in the rural districts of Puerto Rico
the family, morally constituted, does not exist."

Colonel Flinter's account of the people and social conditions of
Puerto Rico in 1834 is a rather flattering one, though he acknowledges
that the island had a bad reputation on account of the lawless
character of the lower class of inhabitants.

All this has greatly changed for the better, but much remains to be
done in the way of moral improvement.


[Footnote 64: Abbad points out that in 1710-'20 there were still two
Indian settlements in the neighborhood of Añasco and San German.]

[Footnote 65: Puerto Rico y su historia, p. 369.]



From the early days of the conquest the black race appeared side by
side with the white race. Both supplanted the native race, and both
have marched parallel ever since, sometimes separately, sometimes
mixing their blood.

The introduction of African negroes into Puerto Rico made the
institution of slavery permanent. It is true that King Ferdinand
ordered the reduction to slavery of all rebellious Indians in 1511,
but he revoked the order the next year. The negro was and remained a
slave. For centuries he had been looked upon as a special creation for

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Online LibraryR.A. Van MiddeldykThe History of Puerto Rico From the Spanish Discovery to the American Occupation → online text (page 12 of 19)