The Culture of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico's culture has been shaped by a potpourri of world influences

Photo credit: © Roxana González |

Culture of Puerto Rico

While the Spanish held control of Puerto Rico for more than 400 years, from 1493 to 1898, the island's culture is a melange of numerous ethnicities that have blended with the dominant Spanish culture to create a unique, eclectic, and vibrant heritage.

The People and Their Folklore

Early Spanish settlers killed and enslaved a large number of the indigenous Taino Indians living in Puerto Rico after the arrival of Columbus in 1493. Many of the Taino women were also taken by Spanish soldiers and settlers in order to populate the island. Although Taino culture has survived in words, names, and legends, the Taino people essentially disappeared after the arrival of the Spanish. Nevertheless, many Puerto Ricans are attempting to discover more about the unique culture that produced words such as "huracan" (hurricane). The folklore of the Tainos focused on demons and natural disasters. Hurricanes, having such a profound effect on the land and agriculture of the island, were an important and tangible aspect of life for the Tainos. The Tainos also helped introduce indigenous ingredients to Spanish cooking that have contributed significantly to the tasty modern cuisine of Puerto Rico.

The next group of people to influence the culture of Puerto Rico were the African slaves brought from countries such as Sudan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast in 1513. These slaves were brought to the country to work the plantations and provide labor for public works projects, such as roads. The slaves also contributed significantly to Puerto Rican culture by influencing language, music, and cuisine. African slaves introduced okra and taro to the Puerto Rican diet, and African culture also had an influence on salsa, a highly recognizable contribution of Puerto Rico to dance and world culture. Santeria, still important in Puerto Rican folklore, was brought by the Yorubas of West Africa. The religion mixes motifs from Christianity with aspects of African and Caribbean religion.

Immigration to Puerto Rico continued over the years to include substantial numbers of Chinese immigrants who were brought to the island to work on public works projects. The Chinese were followed by European immigrants from Italy, France, and Germany, while Spanish loyalists in South America fled to Puerto Rico during the movement of Bolívar. More recently, Puerto Rico saw a large influx of Cuban immigrants fleeing Fidel Castro's government. Many people from the Dominican Republic continue to this day to immigrate to the island. Additionally, Puerto Rico's status as a commonwealth of the United States has resulted in American cultural influences.

While the island has been influenced by many different cultures, the dominant cultural force on the island is Spanish. The influence is pervasive in Puerto Rico's cuisine, architecture, dance, music, art, and literature. The pastels and cobblestones of Old San Juan will call up serene images of southern Spain. The Spanish introduced wheat and a number of meats to the cuisine that have also become indigenous agricultural products of Puerto Rico.

The people of Puerto Rico are a friendly and expressive people. Ultimately, the culture is neither Spanish nor American, but something wholly unique and captivating.

Music and dance that have flourished...

One of the most notable contributions of Puerto Rican culture to the rest of the world has been salsa. Originally developed by the large Puerto Rican community of New York City after World War II, salsa was made famous in the music of renowned jazz musician Tito Puente. This soulful, vibrant music utilizes an array of percussion instruments in addition to horns and vocal components.

Other forms of music and dance that have flourished in Puerto Rico are the bomba and the plena. Bomba was developed by the West African slaves brought to Puerto Rico to work the sugarcane plantations and involves the heavy use of drums. Plena is folk music that uses a variety of instruments and lyrical techniques to tell stories about newsworthy events and people. Subjects of plena songs are often targets for satire or political commentary. Plena is a result of the cultural potpourri of Puerto Rico.

With a mix of cultures that has resulted in unique religion, cuisine, music, and people, Puerto Rico offers visitors an experience of a culture that cannot be found on any other Caribbean island.

Puerto Rico's rich culture can be further explored by reading the detailed articles listed below:


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