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Latino Corner

Jibaro...My Pretty Nigger
Jíbaro is a term used to refer to mountain people, who lived "in-land" in the heart of the island, and are the backbone of the Puerto Rican culture.

In 1820, Miguel Cabrera, a poet from Arecibo, writes "Coplas del Jíbaro."  In 1835 "xibaro" surfaces in French and American documents.  In 1849, Dr. Manuel Alonzo, published his book, "Gibaro (old Spanish)."  It is obvious from these writing that "jíbaro" referers to rustic life or lifestyle, and that the term is common in the island.

It should be noted that the term jíbaro, according to the Catholic online encyclopedia, is also the name of a tribal group in South America, it meant "mountain men."  Jíbaro means "People of the Forest" in the Taíno language. So the term obviously came with them as they immigrated from South America. However "jíbaro" - as is used in Puerto Rico, is not used the same in Cuba or the Dominican Republic, which were populated with the very same Taíno people.

Early Puerto Rico was a thick bosque with very few and far between roads.  It was easier to take a boat to get to the other side of the island than to travel across.  This isolated the jíbaros and helped to develop their distinct identity.  Municipios were isolated areas and travel between municipios was not common. Each town was founded with a Catholic church as the "heart" of the town, and a plaza in front. Each town had its own patron saint. Yearly Patron Saint fiestas (Fiestas Patronales) were celebrated in each town. People looked forward to these yearly patron saint festivals and to navidad celebrations. They labored from dawn to dusk, daily, and looked forward to these celebrations.

Music was a major component in the development of the Jíbaro persona.  Jíbaros made their own entertainment and most of the time that meant music.  With strong Spaniard roots, the jíbaros became poets, composers, and great story tellers.  They wrote and sang coplas, décimas, seis chorreao, aguinaldos y villancicos, and cuentos de Juan Bobo.  Fiestas took on a new meaning for the overworked, and exhausted campesinos.  Holidays became important events. 

Traditionally a jíbaro was a poor mountain man (as in the American hillbilly), someone from the mountains, in el campo or "la isla" as they refer to the heart of the island in Puerto Rico. Not all residents of the interior of the island were jíbaros.  Some were acendados from well to do families.  The hacendados considered themselves Españoles, were well educated, often completing their education in Europe, and had servants.

A jíbaro was the poor campesino, uneducated, and illiterate.  He lived in extreme poverty.  He made do with what little he had. The jíbaro was not educated, but he was not stupid. He had natural wisdom.  Other traits traditionally linked to jíbaros were honesty, bravery, hospitality, self-sufficiency, stuburness, and mucho orgullo.

A jibarito knew how to work the soil, milk a cow, how to concoct home remedies for both his family and his animals using yerbas.  He invented "lechón en la varita" and knew how to use a fogón.  I speak in the past tense because the true jíbaro is now dead, gone forever, but NOT forgotten. Over 50% of islanders today have at least one year of college. So, we can't say that there are any true jíbaros left - only jíbaros de corazón.

We don't know much about the development of the "jíbaro," but we know what it represents today - a true and genuine Puertorriqueño. . . .


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