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Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance

Sembrando Herencia 2007
Angelito Borincano

The History behind the Musical
by Dr. Tekina-eiru Maynard (2007)

In December 2007, Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance debut our newest original musical, Angelito Borincano, featuring live music and dance. When the 1899 Hurricane San Ciriaco hits the island, the Jibaros of Puerto Rico are given an Angel! Exciting adventures take Angelito Borincano through the 1950's great migration from the mountains of Puerto Rico to New York City -- and back -- searching for a heroic act that will earn him his deluxe wings! This original, bilingual musical was created by PRFDance Director Ana Maria Tekina-eiru' Maynard in collaboration with Rupert Reyes, Director of Teatro Vivo. Although Angelito Borincano is purely fictional, our story is rich in very real Puerto Rican history and traditions. Enjoy the information below that tells about the historical settings in which our delightful, funny, action-adventure musical takes place.

Hurricane History in Puerto Rico

The beautiful island paradise of Puerto Rico lies in the hurricane belt of the Carribean. Each year, from June through November hurricane season brings over 150 mph winds, storm surges, torrential rains, and destruction, making hurricanes one of the most feared forces of nature. Thankfully, the stormiest months tend only to be August and September, when conditions in the Atlantic basin are most ripe for a hurricane to develop. In addition, the Caribbean is vast and the chances of any single island being hit directly by a hurricane are slim. Direct hits are so rare, in fact, that many elder inhabitants of the islands still relate events in history to being before or after "the storm" because they may have only seen one or two of significance in their lifetimes. [17]

During our musical we "meet" two hurricanes:

  • Hurricane San Ciriaco (1899) - On August 8, 1899, Puerto Rico experienced one of the most destructive hurricanes in history. Category 5 Hurricane San Ciriaco was an intense and long-lived hurricane which crossed Puerto Rico over the two day period, August 8-9. It rained for 28 days straight and the winds reached maximum speeds of 140 miles per hour. The loss of life and property damage were immense. Considered the most tragic days in Puerto Rican history, approximately 3,400 people died in the floods and thousands were left without shelter, food, or work. The most devastating effect of San Ciriaco was the destruction of the farmlands, especially in the mountains where the coffee plantations were located. Disease and poverty became rampant. San Ciriaco aggravated the social and economic situation of Puerto Rico at the time and had serious repercussions in the years that followed. [1,2,3,4]

  • Hurricane Betsy aka Santa Clara (1956) - On August 9, 1956 Hurricane Betsy (aka Santa Clara), the strongest hurricane of the 1956 season developed east of the Lesser Antilles. The hurricane passes through the French Antilles causing heavy damage with winds of 160 to 190 kilometres per hour (86 to 102 knots). The hurricane passes over Puerto Rico on the August 12 with gusts of 185 kilometres per hour (100 knots), resulting in 27 deaths and $40M in damage. [4,5,6,7]

    The History of Coffee in Puerto Rico

    The main characters of our musical live in the coffee growing mountains of Puerto Rico. Until the late 17th Century, almost all coffee in the world was grown by protective Arabian plantation owners who prohibited strangers from visiting their plantatation and forbidded seeds from leaving the country. Their monopoly was broken by Dutch coffee spies, who managed to steal, cultivate and freely distribute coffee plants throughout Europe, including France. The first coffee plant to cross the ocean to the Americas was brought by a French Naval Officer, Captain Gabriel Matthieu de Clieu in 1720. Across the wide ocean, the Captain defended his little tree from all kinds of attacks (even Pirates) and kept the little coffee plant alive by sharing his drinking water. Coffee was introduced to Puerto Rico in 1736 from Santo Domingo and grew well in the protected rainforest canopy of the high mountains of the island. At that time, decendants of Spanish immigrants, humble and hardworking mountain people called "Jibaros," worked the inland farms in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Coffee became an important Puerto Rican commodity in the 1800s when events in Europe forced French and Italian immigrants from Corsica to settle in Puerto Rico. For them it was an island of similar geography with an attractive offer from Spain -- free land for those who wanted to start a new life on the island.

    With the coastal areas fairly settled, Corsicans settled in the southwestern highlands, especially around the town of Yauco and made coffee an island success. During this period in history, Jibaros lived a hardworking but simple life high up in the mountains. They grew and harvested coffee, and survived on the native fruits and vegetables and the meager cash crops they were able to grow. The majority of coffee plantations were small. On these small inland farms, the owners and the jibaros worked together, creating a sense of community with close ties. The coffee harvest season lasted from August to January/February (depending how high up in the mountains you were). Jibaros traditionally celebrated the coffee harvest with joyful music and dance, and lively celebrations that lasted long into the night. By 1896, Puerto Rico had become the world's sixth-largest coffee exporter. [13,14,23,24,27,28,29,30]

    The 1950s Great Migration

    In our musical, our main characters migrate to New York City searching for economic opportunity. Puerto Ricans began (im)migrating to New York as early as the mid 19th Century when Puerto Rico was still a Spanish Colony. The largest wave of migration to New York came in the 1950s in what became known as "The Great Migration" with the advent of affordable air travel. For $52.50, one could take an 11pm night coach to New York City -- a crammed, frightening, nauseating, unpressurized flight that was jounced around the air like a ship in a storm-tossed sea. Puerto Ricans eager for economic opportunity were attracted by U.S. factory owners and employment agencies that had begun recruiting heavily on the island. One documented case was the recruitment of 130 women directly from Puerto Rico by the American Manufacturing Company. They were brought to NY by steamship and set up in an apartment building complete with Chaperones from well-known respected Puerto Rican families and a free bus that took them to and from work. In 1953, Puerto Rican migration to New York reached its peak when 75,000 people left the island. By 1960, the United States census showed that there were well over 600,000 New Yorkers of Puerto Rican birth or parentage. Estimates were that more than one million Puerto Ricans had migrated during this time of the Great Migration [8,9,10,11,16].


    [1] Hurricane San Ciriaco. Photo from the Library of Congress (public domain). http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/sanciriaco.html

    [2] "Tropical storms and Hurricanes...of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands from 1515 to present," National Weather Service, San Juan Puerto Rico. http://www.srh.weather.gov/sju/hrcnhist.html

    [3] "1899 Hurrican San Ciriaco," Wikipedia.org. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1899_Hurricane_San_Ciriaco

    [4] "Hurricanes and Tropical Storms in Puerto Rico from 1900 to 1979," The Puerto Rico Hurricane Center, http://huracanado1.tripod.com/history2.html

    [5] "Hurricane Season of 1956," December 1956. (Hurricane Santa Clara). http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/general/lib/lib1/nhclib/mwreviews/1956.pdf

    [6] Hurricane Betsy (Santa Clara)," http://www.atl.ec.gc.ca/weather/hurricane/storm56.html.

    [7] Link to Puerto Rico.com, http://www.linktopr.com/huracan_list.html

    [8] "Puerto Rican migration to New York," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puerto_Rican_migration_to_New_York

    [9] "History Puerto Rican Migration," Latino Education Network Service, http://palante.org/History.htm

    [10] Puerto Rican [Migration] / Cuban Immigration http://memory.loc.gov/learn/features/immig/cuban3.html

    [11] "Long Night's Journey," The Puerto Ricans: a documentary history, Kal Wagenheim and Olga Jimenez de Wagenheim, Markus Wiener Publishers, 1994.

    [12] "Rural Life Under US Rule," Cultures of America - Puerto Ricans, Petra Press, Marshall Cavendish Corp., 1996.

    [13] "Zafra," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zafra_(agriculture)

    [14] "Hacienda Buena Vista," http://www.gicco.com/19thCentury.htm

    [15] Baquine - http://www.prfdance.org/celebrando2005.baquine.htm

    [16] "From Colonia to Community: The History of Puerto Ricans in New York City, Virginia E. Sancheck Korrol, University of California Press, 1983.

    [17] "Happiness Rains," PuertoRico-Guide.Info. http://puertorico-guide.info/weather/

    [18] Wagenheim, Kal and Jimenez de Wagenheim, Olga, "The Puerto Ricans: A Documentary History," Markus Wiener Pub., 1996. (Before I read this book, I hated history. ;) A facinating book that presents history in the words of those who were there.)

    [19] Jimenez de Wagenheim, Olga, "Puerto Rico: An Interpretive History from Pre-Columbian Times to 1900," Markus Wiener Pub., 1998.

    [20] Kal Wagenheim, "Puerto Rico: A Profile", Praeger Publishers, New York NY, 1970.

    [21] Morales Carrion, Arturo, "Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History," W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1983.

    [22] Pico Fernando, "Historia General de Puerto Rico," San Juan, PR: Ediciones Huracan, 2000.

    [23] The Book of Coffee and Tea: Second Revised Edition, Joel Schapira, Karl Schapira, David Schapira, St. Martin's Griffin Publisher, March 15, 1996.

    [24] "Mountain Gold: Puerto Rico's Gourmet Coffee," Bienvendios Magazine, Official Visitors Guide of the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association, Coral Publications, 1999.

    [25] "Corsican Migration to Puerto Rico in the 19th Century - Part 1," Wilfredo Santiago-Valiente, PhD, El Boricua, a cultural newsletter (www.elboricua.com), August 2003.

    [26] "Corsican immigration to Puerto Rico, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corsican_immigration_to_Puerto_Rico

    [27] "An Introduction to the Coffee History of Puerto Rico and Yauco Selecto'S Part in that History," Yauco Selecto Literature, http://www.tastesoftheworld.net/information.php?info_id=16

    [28] Website for Hacienda Buena Vista in Ponce, http://www.gicco.com/19thCentury.htm

    [29] "Puerto Rico Joe Sampling an island's coffee," Christopher Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, October 14, 2001, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/10/14/CM92860.DTL

    [30] Interviews and teaching from Joquain Nieves Caldero, Folklorist from Corozal and Director of Guateque de PR, 2003.

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    Dr. Ana María Tekina-eirú Maynard
    Puerto Rican Cultural Center
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