Our ancestors worshiped in both private and public ways. Areitos were celebrations which honored not only the Spirits but also the persons hosting it along with the invited guests. Epic songs were sung and danced to. Tekina were the ceremonial leaders of the Epic songs that recounted both the deeds and the exploits of the ancestors. There was however also room for the creation of new songs and dances. The Spanish documented that the Casica Anacaona was famous for her compositions and choreography for the Areitos. They even mention in one account that she organized an Areito where over a thousand maidens danced in honor of the Spanish. These celebrations took place in the Batey. That is the area where the sacred ball game was played. It was important that all creation witness the Areito.
Song and dance were a form of prayer. It was a way for the community to be and move as one. It connected everyone to the common ancestor and reinforced the sense of kinship. Every important event in human life was celebrated with an Areito.
With the conquest by the Spaniards the Areitos proved too dangerous so they were soon outlawed. Organized gatherings were not allowed except under the leadership of Catholic priests or a devote convert and then only for the purpose of teaching the Christian faith. The need for a substitute way of celebration, that met the need of the people to express themselves was noted. Parrandas were brought from Spain to meet this need. It was a tool used to reinforce the Christian doctrine while at the same time allowing people their self expression and the need to worship through song and dance. The Parrandas of Boriken began to look and feel different from what was done in Spain. Our Parrandas had indigenous elements within a Christian context. The Taino and their decendants still played their maracas and quiros only now there was a Spanish guitar. The celebrations still took place outdoors under the night sky. The dancing often took place in the front yards of the Bohios and to this day this area of the home is still called Batey. The songs were still mostly a form of prayer that was taken from home to home until the wee hours of the morning.
The songs that were sung at these Parrandas were originally of a religious nature and many continue so to the present day. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are sung about but with a Taino/Jibaro flavor. After a time the Jibaro began to improvise new songs, not only about religion but also about their joys and sorrows. Women have also been known to be great improvisers of the sytles sung for Parrandas. When I hear a woman sing decimas I hear Anacaona underneath the Spanish trappings and my heart stirs.
We read about the Caribs or the Garifuna as many are called today and we find reference to their "Paranda"( same word as our's but only spelled with one R ) as one form of traditional Carib music. There are some difference in that they use three drums and turtle shell rattles. Their Paranda is also stationary in that they sing and dance in one location while we go from house to house. It can not be denied however that both styles of Parandas have similar roots and purpose.
Today there are many recordings of the traditional Jibaro music. The songs often speak of our Taino ancestors. The sounds of the quiro and the maraca is always constant and consistant in the background. It is there reminding us and connecting us to the Areitos of old. The quiro and maraca in fact are every where in our Boricua music. Almost evey piece of Salsa music has them. However we've heard them for so long that we stop noticing. It is the same with many other Taino cultural expressions. If you eat viandas( root vegs.) with fish,or corn, beans or pumpkins, you are eating traditional foods. If you use achote to color your food or just cook an old fasion sancocho ( ajiaco) you are connecting. If you've ever attended a Parranda or had a Spiritist blow cigar smoke on you or you prayed in front of your grandmother's home shrine, then you were connecting.
The following decima is of my own inspiration. Written in the traditional way. It has ten lines with 8 sylable per stanza.
Le Lo Lai Le Lo Le ay Le Lo Lai Le Lo Le
Hoy estamos recordando,
Hoy estamos recordando,
Las costumbre del abuelo
De Yukiyu un te quiero
llevo cuan flor entre labios
En Boriken hay Guaribos
En Boriken hay Guariches
La voz del Coqui me dice
Daca Taino Taino.
Le Lo Lai Le Lo Le
Today we are remembering
Today we are remembering
The customs of the grand father
An " I love you" from Yukiyu
I carry as a flower on my lips.
Boriken has brave men.
Boriken has brave women
The voice of the coqui frog says
I am Taino, I am Taino.
I'm sharing this today in the hopes that we become more aware of how much of our culture we really still retain. My dear friends, try to remember this as you celebrate the coming holiday season. Our unique cultural expressions are there just beneath the surface, all we have to do is take a second look.