More enduring than the Indian influence has been that of Puerto Rican blacks. Blacks have played an important role in Puerto Rican culture since Juan Garrido, an african who is said to have sailed with Ponce de Leon arrived in the island in 1508. It is more certain that in 1510, Jerónimo de Bruselas was granted permission by King Fernando to go to the island with two African slaves. To this day art, literature, dance and music styles all bear an African imprint.
More than any place on the island the little town of Loiza, 15 miles east of San Juan, has kept its African roots. Loiza started as a sugar plantation with black field slaves.When spain abolished slavery here in 1873, many of Loiza's residents stayed on.
Loiza's isolation helped keep its past intact; retaining one of the highest percentages of African descendants of all island towns, Loiza is a center for African-inspired traditions.Its week-long festival here in July is so loaded with traditional color that it has become an islandwide drawing card.The town's bomba dancers, so named for the wooden barrel drum that provides their frantic beat are celebrated through the Caribbean. Pure African,the bomba was brought over by the black slaves. It's a rhythmic music using the bomba drum and played by hand.This form of music is produced by one large drum plus a smaller drum called a subidor. The drums are accompanied by the rhythmical beating of sticks and maracas to create a swelling tide of drumbeats, in which aficionados can hear the drummers bang out a series of responses one to another.Bomba is described as a dialogue between dancer and drummer each challenging the other to a rhythmic duel. As the dance and the drummers' beat continue, the music becomes more spirited and more complex.
Another famous activity in Loiza is the preparation of coconut masks whose designs have been preserved by generations of local craftsmen and are now collected by San Juan art galleries.
The black culture is also preserved in other artistic fashions,such as the warm ethnic poetry of Juan Palés Matos. Juan Boria, recently deceased,was known island-wide as the best interpreter of his afro-antillean poetry
Poemas Afroantillanos - por Luis Pales Matos
Por la encendida calle antillana
Va Tembandumba de la Quimbamba
--Rúmba, macumba, candombe, bámbula---
Entre dos filas de negras caras.
Ante ella un congo--gongo y maraca--
ritma una conga bomba que bamba.
En tí ahora, mulata,
Me acojo al tibio mar de las antillas.
Agua sensual y lenta de melaza,
Puerto de azúcar, cálida bahía,
Con la luz en reposo
Dorando la onda limpia,
Y el soñoliento zumbo de colmena
Que cuajan los trajines de la orilla.