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Culture & People


Puerto Rican culture is a mix of four cultures, African (from the slaves), Taíno (Amerindians), Spanish, and more recently, North American. From Africans, the Puerto Ricans have obtained the bomba and plena, a type of music and dance including percussions and maracas. From the Amerindians (Taínos), they kept many names for their municipalities, foods, musical instruments like the güiro and maracas. Many words and other objects have originated from their localised language.

From the Spanish they received the Spanish language, the Catholic religion and the vast majority of their cultural and moral values and traditions. From the United States they received the English language, the university system and the adoption of some holidays and practices. On March 12, 1903, University of Puerto Rico was officially founded, branching out from the "Escuela Normal Industrial", a smaller organism that was founded in Fajardo three years before.

Much of the Puerto Rican culture centres on the influence of music. Like the country as a whole, Puerto Rican music has been developed by mixing other cultures with local and traditional rhythms. Early in the history of Puerto Rican music, the influences of African and Spanish traditions were most noticeable. However, the cultural movements across the Caribbean and North America have played a vital role in the more recent musical influences that have reached Puerto Rico.

The official symbols of Puerto Rico are the Reinita mora or Puerto Rican Spindalis (a type of bird), the Flor de Maga (a type of flower), and the Ceiba or Kapok (a type of tree). The unofficial animal and a symbol of Puerto Rican pride is the Coquí, a small frog genus. Other popular symbols of Puerto Rico are the "jíbaro", the "countryman", and the carite.

Visual Arts

Perhaps the strongest Spanish influence on Puerto Rican arts was in painting. During the colonial period, native-born painters emulated classic European styles. The first of these artists to gain international acclaim, José Campeche, learned techniques from both his father, who was also a painter, and exiled Spanish artist Luis Paret. His work concentrated on religious themes and portraits of important citizens in Spanish Rococo style. Still regarded as the most important 18th century painter in the Americas, Campeche is also credited with creating Puerto Rican national painting.

In the 19th century, Francisco Oller followed in Campeche's footsteps. He studied in both Madrid and Paris, which greatly influenced his work. Although his paintings often show an Impressionist or Realist style, he altered his style with each piece to suit the subject matter. Landscapes, portraits, and still-lifes were all among his works. After moving back to Puerto Rico in 1884, Oller became interested in portraying Puerto Rican subject matter. He also founded an art academy and wrote a book on drawing and painting the natural world.

Folk Arts

Santos, an especially beloved form of folk art, evolved from the Spanish church's use of sculptures to convert indigenous Puerto Ricans to Christianity. Meaning "saints" in Spanish, santos depict figures of saints and other religious icons. Families continue to pass this centuries-old craft down from generation to generation. The artisans, called santeros, create santos from native wood, clay, and stone. After shaping simple effigies, they often finish by painting them in vivid colours. Santos vary in size, with the smallest examples around eight inches tall and the largest about twenty inches tall. Traditionally, santos were seen as messengers between Earth and Heaven. As such, they occupied a special place on household altars, where people prayed to them, asked for help, or tried to summon their protection.

Also popular, caretas are masks worn during carnivals. Similar masks signifying evil spirits were used in both Spain and Africa, though for different purposes. The Spanish used their masks to frighten lapsed Christians into returning to the church, while tribal Africans used them as protection from the evil spirits they represented. Puerto Rican caretas always bear at least several horns and fangs, true to their historic origins. While they're usually constructed of papier-mâché, coconut shells and fine metal screening are sometimes used as well. Though red and black were originally the typical colours for caretas, their palette has expanded to include a wide variety of bright hues and patterns.

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