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Author Topic: Puerto Rican Museum Celebrates the Island's Black  (Read 8944 times)
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« on: October 15, 2003, 01:01:19 PM »

Puerto Rican Museum Celebrates the Island's Black Heritage

by Alma Abreu

In the Museum of our African Roots located in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, the African cultural influence of Puerto Rico is celebrated through paintings, artifacts, documents and photographs. According to the museum brochure, "one of the aims of the museum is to preserve, collect, document and spread the black history and culture of Puerto Rico.

The museum exhibit is arranged in a chronological order documenting the origin, background and arrival of the African slaves to Puerto Rico. On the first floor the various ethnic groups of the slaves from West and Central Africa that were brought to the island are listed such as the Ashanti, Yoruba, Bantu and Congo. There are drawings depicting the middle passage and the brutal treatment of the slaves once on the sugar plantations. Documents and pictures from the 16th and 17th centuries paint a very real picture of the mistreatment of African slaves by the Spaniards.

As you progress to the other rooms of the museum, exhibit pieces show what life was like after slavery was abolished in 1868. Blacks had little or no opportunity for advancement and faced discrimination from whites in Puerto Rico. A picture of Rafael Cordero tells the story of a man who opened the first school for blacks on the island.

On the second floor of the museum the modern culture derived from the African's encounter with the native Taino Indians and the Spaniards on the island is explored. The religion of the Yoruba called Santeria is a product of the mixing of Yoruba deities with Catholic saints. The way in which this religion manifested itself in Puerto Rico is explained through photographs and sacred religious items.

Drums used in the African derived music of Bomba called "barriles" are on display as well as the traditional dress worn by Bomba dancers. There are artifacts showing how the modern festivals, customs and cuisines trace their roots back to Africa. A festive display of local Afro-Puerto Rican art can be found here such as the masks used in the St. James Fiesta. In addition there are paintings by Samuel Lind and Antonio Broccoli Porto which depict scenes of the music, dancers and drummers of Bomba y Plena.

The museum sits nearby the main tourist attraction of Puerto Rico, "El Morro" which was once a military fortress built by slaves. There are many other art galleries in the area that also show Puerto Rican artwork. The museum is a start for a long overdue examination of Black Puerto Rican culture on the island.

The museum is located in Old San Juan in the Plaza San Jose next to the entrance of "El Morro". The museum's hours are from 8:30-4:00pm Tuesday through Saturday. The telephone number is: (787)724-4294.

We should first show solidarity with each other. We are Africans. We are black. Our first priority is ourselves.
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