Published On: Mon, Nov 30th, 2009

Parrandas, Areitos Transformed

 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

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 guiros 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 differences 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 guiro and
the maraca is always constant and consistent in the background. It is
there reminding us and connecting us to the Areitos of old. The guiro
and maraca in fact are everywhere in our Boricua music. Almost every
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 achiote 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

is of
my own inspiration. Written in the traditional way. It has ten lines
with 8 syllables 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 Quaribos
En Boriken hay Quariches
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.

In Peace

by Domingo
Hernandez De Jesus (Turey)

Parrandas, Areitos Transformed