Relearning an Historical Craft: Paths to Indigenous Land Rights in Boriquén (Puerto Rico) - Upsmag - Magazine News

Relearning an Historical Craft: Paths to Indigenous Land Rights in Boriquén (Puerto Rico)

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“Relearning an Historical Craft” by Jorge González and Angela Brown, was commissioned by PROTODISPATCH, a brand new digital publication that includes private views by artists addressing transcontinental considerations, filtered by the place they’re on this planet. It was initially printed by the worldwide nonprofit Protocinema and seems right here as a part of a collaboration between Protocinema and Artnet Information.

Within the wake of hurricane Fiona, PROTODISPATCH provides Jorge González and Angela Brown’s photograph essay and correspondence about their ongoing collaboration on a collection of occasions and engagements in Santurce, Boriquén (Puerto Rico), organized through Jorge’s on-going undertaking Escuela de Oficios. They’ve launched into a collective reminiscence and therapeutic undertaking which engages native elders, crafts-people, and drum-making, in addition to traditions of group celebration, chanting, and dancing.

Their change beneath, paired with the accompanying pictures and intensive captions, reveals a journey in direction of excavating the previous via the enjoyment of celebration and music, communal making, and constructing collective that means. These are experiments in reinventing training and reminiscence, a discipline in disaster in lots of geographies, however right here targeted on the potential for Boriquén (Puerto Rico), as claims to Indigenous land rights are beneath fixed risk from native authorities.

The tracing of up to date cultural practices again to historic Indigenous information is proof of the connection between deep pasts and the current, supporting arguments for land again claims as we speak. The importance and urgency of those claims is especially highly effective in mild of more and more excessive storms usually battering the island on account of local weather disaster.

Importantly, the purpose of departure right here is deeply interpersonal, intimate, and makes use of not solely Indigenous, ancestral knowledges, but in addition oppressive, colonial buildings, reimagining them for various, liberatory functions. 

Right here I used to be being taught hand-carving of hammock weaving shuttles, with Don Eustaquio Alers, a grasp hammock-maker, from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. 

Don Eustaquio’s beliefs of autonomy and independence for Puerto Rico are expressed with fervor and hope for the long run, whereas sharing his information concerning his commerce as weaver, one which compliments cultivation of the land. His loom is cell. On the Alers household house, in Lomas Verdes, Aguadilla, two tall wood rods are suspended with tied rope that’s affixed to an iron gate, a window body, and a nail on the wall. In Puerto Rico, hammock weavers are likely to have a wood loom construction in an area devoted to their commerce. Eustaquio shares that, residing in New York Metropolis along with his household prompted him to consistently arrange and rollup the loom of their front room of their residence.

This photograph was taken round 2016, at a time after we had been initiating our platform referred to as “Escuela de Oficios,” in several areas round Puerto Rico. If we’re to mirror upon hammock-making within the archipelago, the craft is cultivated in two cities, San Sebastián and Las Piedras, one within the west, the opposite within the southeast. Through the years, we’ve got traced these routes, amongst others, with a deal with fibers and weaves, and the passing on and continuity of those knowledges.


Our buddy Chiro constructed a stilt home as an emblem of safety for the wetlands, and as a option to present that somebody lived there, primarily to stop arson. These unlucky incidents of tried destruction occur typically, as individuals wrestle for the usage of the coastal forests of Canóvanas, Piñones, and Loíza, wealthy ancestral lands for Indigenous and Black communities. 

Essentially the most accessible entrance to those wetlands is thru Pueblo Indio, a self-organized group that attained possession of their parcels by claiming their rights to the land and communal recognition. José Manuel “Chiro” González was one among group leaders concerned within the trigger and continues to be a voice in his neighborhood.  

We met Chiro via harvesting cattails, a central fiber to the Escuela de Oficio’s weaving work. This plant has been very beneficiant to us. Its generosity extends to our relationship with Pueblo Indio, which represents a path in direction of attaining a broader consciousness of the variety of the land and the waters. Previous to having Chiro’s assist, our cattail harvest occurred in Santurce, near our studio, a densely populated space, removed from the cycles of lifetime of  wetlands. 


After I met Angela Brown, we had plans to make a crab stew. A pricey buddy, Steve Maldonado Silvestrini, joined us on that day. 

For a number of months, we had been speaking about making a crab stew. Chiro traps crabs when they’re in season. I consider this was the primary time we gathered and spent a day on the stilt home. I’d not have imagined how energizing this second of pause was for us.


About 20 years in the past, Chiro planted numerous palm bushes of the Roystonea borinquena selection, generally referred to as palma actual. We spent a second meditating upon the lives of those palm bushes previous to taking one down. We marked our intentions to proceed studying from them. At that second, we had been dedicated to creating a primary drum as an instrument to heal and open paths. This motion has remodeled our relationship with what we take from nature, it is a component of providing that additionally took the lifetime of a useful resource. Of 1 palm, we made three drums, and saved the remaining wooden for later use, to proceed making musical devices.

Eight years in the past, as a part of Escuela de Oficios, I began working with fibers as a response to supply a course in direction of participating within the creation of a mutual studying area, in a regenerative method. At an early stage, in these first conferences with knowledge-holders, the grasp weavers, I keep in mind a basket-maker, Edwin Marcucci, speaking to us in regards to the permission he requested to reap and work with a plant.

All through the years I’ve come to raised perceive this relationship with nature. It has taken a gradual and steady improvement for passing on the information I’ve acquired to extra deeply perceive this relationship. As we proceed to take pure assets, our dedication grows. With our households and academics, we’re studying to play and sing.


Vital labor is required to chop down and course of a palm tree for making an Afro-Boricua drum. Alejandra Ferreras, pictured right here, helped with  the development of our first drum, with the steering of knowledge-holder Don Rafael Trinidad. Alejandra, a social psychologist, collectively together with her companion, photographer Javier Piñero, immersed themselves within the course of and relationships of Escuela de Oficios as a way to mirror upon the continuity of ancestral information within the context of colonial oppression. 


This photograph by Javier Piñero captures a second after a harvest. Cattail flower stems, papayas, a brush product of “escobilla” plant, amongst different fruits and seeds, are introduced to the Altar at my studio, which serves as Escuela de Oficios area.

Our harvests primarily heart on cattail, a useful resource that has taught us about generosity. Any weaving approach could be utilized with this grass. Our historic homes had been made out of cattail, with a base of palm leaves, particularly of palma actual, or as our instructor Rafael Trinidad calls it, palma de yagua, referring to the leaves used for bohios, our ancestors’ title for a humble rural home.

Since 2014, a regenerative strategy to studying areas was engaged inside the preliminary improvement of Escuela de Oficios. Concepts across the conception of a communal home had been actively engaged via studying and exchanging about pure fibers and weaving strategies. 

In these years, we’ve got taken and acquired nice assist from assets and knowledge-holders. We’ve got organized and practiced, decided to have the ability to move on what we’ve got discovered. In recent times, we’ve got meditated across the full collapse of our worlds and mirrored upon the lack of important supporters. Our Altar is a response to an inside of a communal home in its potentialities, to supply a cost to Life and Dying that accompanies our progress. 


“When a scholar is able to obtain, the identical because the instructor is to provide.” These had been the phrases of Rafael Trinidad as he shared his technique for portray drum cover. Rafael Trinidad is a maker of percussion devices and a grasp metalsmith. Don Rafa has devoted his life to music with a way of transmitting a pure sound, as he calls his pursuits in making percussion devices. 

The primary time I met Rafa was at an area craft honest. He gave a speak about his evolution as a crafter, which embodies a powerful sense of take care of the assets which might be employed in his works. In his open-air workshop, I appreciated how machines and instruments had been made to work with wooden, fibers, and animal hides, which he prepares on website.


This was the primary palm drum made with the steering of Rafael Trinidad. He ceremoniously introduced it, transmitting knowledge. From his phrases I share: 

“This drum, proper, has manifested itself, it has manifested itself with its presence doing the right factor. And I thanks, those that are linked to Rafael, for doing this work, in order that the primary piece, nicely, has achieved success. It signifies that success is already manifested sooner or later, proper, and I thanks once more, as a result of it has freed me. And that sound was as I requested. As we ask. Make it sound how he likes it. And that tuntun is the beating of a coronary heart. As I say the tuntun of a drum is the beat of a coronary heart. And now I would like you to consider your coronary heart and take into consideration the center of God and take into consideration the center of all humanity, of all individuals. And beat that drum prefer it’s a coronary heart. Go forward.”

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As Rafael Trinidad led the drum beats and rosary chanting, on Might 15, 2022, intentions of sunshine had been additionally being positioned upon weaving a sol lace, by instructor Jasmine Rivera. Sol lace has been a formative weaving approach for Escuela de Oficios. Due to the assist of academics like Jasmine Rivera, I’m now in a position to train it. This 12 months, I’ve been in a position to train it along with Jasmine, because of a collective weave that’s shared and walked between communities. As I proceed to maintain a promise of Might, I hope to domesticate being a continuing learner and newbie. Photograph by Raquel Pérez Puig.


One thing like sharing muscle reminiscence.

Pricey Jorge, 

We first met in 2021, in your studio in Santurce. I had been following your work as a result of I felt—and nonetheless really feel—that it honored a sort of studying that’s too typically forgotten. A studying that occurs in actual time, in lively bodily collaboration. One thing like sharing muscle reminiscence.

That day in your studio, I requested on your ideas on weaving traditions in Puerto Rico, and the way the labor and care of the hand and the physique get handed down from era to era. You confirmed me a hammock-in-progress, with maguey1 wrapped round two wood posts. I used to be inquisitive about what the industrially-made software or textile leaves behind.

You handed me a small wood shuttle, which you had carved by hand after an unique by Don Eustaquio Aler.2 Its imperfections had been proof of your having carved it tentatively, curiously. It was made by a scholar, fastidiously imitating the work of a grasp. For me, it was a sculpture about openness and humility, whereas additionally being a software that might help you weave and construct your personal muscle recollections, to maintain custom alive. 

We jumped onto the again of Chiro’s 4-wheeler, and he introduced us to an already-steaming pot of boiled crabs.

Just a few days later you invited me to Canóvanas to fulfill José Manuel “Chiro” González3, who had constructed a tremendous stilt home in the midst of the marsh, and whose information of the land appeared boundless. I anticipated to study in regards to the cattail grasses, which you had collected from the marshes to dry them for weaving mats and rugs. However as an alternative, surrounded by the tall enea4 rustling within the breeze, we ready a meal.

We jumped onto the again of Chiro’s 4-wheeler, and he introduced us to an already-steaming pot of boiled crabs. He confirmed us the place to press our thumbs into every shell, in order that one of the best meat would merely cleave away from the slimy gook across the head. We didn’t want any instruments aside from our fingers and a giant steel bowl.

We cooked and ate our meal within the stilt home that Chiro had constructed utilizing discovered wooden and aluminum and we used an extended persist with feed salchichas5 to Bartolo, Chiro’s pet caiman. In honor of Luisa Capetillo’s feminist organizing, we learn out loud her phrases on the promotion of agricultural training6, and labor advocacy. I felt that she was having lunch with us, too. 

And we frolicked collectively on land that’s thick with ancestral information…

On the finish of the day, as we drove via Pueblo Indio and previous the previous sugar mill, I considered how studying from each other can occur so organically, and so profoundly, merely via the gesture of an invite. Chiro invited you. You invited me. And we frolicked collectively on land that’s thick with ancestral information, buzzing with the inventiveness that emerges someplace between pleasure and ache, celebration and wrestle. 

Little did we all know, this buzzing would change into a drumbeat virtually a 12 months later. After I was invited to contribute an set up in regards to the architect Henry Klumb’s work in Puerto Rico for the exhibition “Sick Structure” at CIVA, Brussels. I instantly considered how your undertaking Escuela de Oficios7 emerged out of your engagement with Casa Klumb, Klumb’s former house and architectural manifesto, which lately burned down.

As quickly as we began speaking about this trajectory via the lens of therapeutic, you remembered Klumb’s plans for rural colleges. Capetillo will need to have smiled in her grave after we realized that the agricultural faculty was not solely intellectually, however materially tied to the collaboration that the land makes doable.

You remembered that, in his plans for the faculties, Klumb had really useful the usage of palmwood boards for the partitions. He probably selected the wooden as a result of it was extensively obtainable within the Nineteen Forties and ‘50s, however madera de palma, you instructed me, was additionally sacred. It was once a conventional wooden used for rural houses. Since a palm tree offers its wooden from its outer layer, it will possibly simply be hollowed. So, you proposed to make bomba drums, whose sound persistently brings boricuas collectively in instances of hardship. The drum might provoke a shared sense of therapeutic through which the previous and current overlapped in energy and ache. 

All of it occurred rapidly after that. You discovered a palm to chop down with assist from Chiro and Alejandra Ferreras. You chop it into sections and hollowed out the barrels. You introduced them to Don Rafael Trinidad (“Rafa”) in Manatí and carried them with you in your journey to the Dominican Republic, the place they had been performed earlier than they had been even accomplished. You watched Omar, an Arab immigrant butcher buddy, fastidiously pores and skin a goat for the drums’ leather-based in a respectful method with prayer.

And alongside the way in which, you despatched me pictures and movies, observations and moments of shock. We considered the Mexica god Xipetotec, “the flayed one,” who embodies a cycle of dying and rebirth, preserving the solar within the sky, guaranteeing a fruitful harvest. Maybe our drums are one thing like Xipetotec. Sporting sacrificed skins, they honor progress and dying on the identical time. And so they make their option to your altar.

Sitting in New York—the place Capetillo organized Puerto Rican and Cuban tobacco employees within the 1910s, the place my abuela labored in a rubber boot manufacturing unit, with the sounds of Ponce seeming so distant—I ponder what the drums will train us subsequent…

Un GRAN abrazo,



There’s a chance to heal and develop right here.

Pricey Angela,

Thanks, reflection on these previous years is useful. I recognize you centering concepts of well being and illness in our work collectively. You allowed me to maneuver ahead with the remainder of the occasions with the clear intention of offering care and therapeutic for each participant and each materials. 

First, we revisited wild gardens and rural colleges that when carried the spirit of our palm bushes and made us rethink our studying areas via drum-making. The ensuing bateyes, or sugar mill, had been ceremonious plazas of remembrance, celebration, and empowerment. What we wish our studying areas to be. 

Escuela de Oficios, (a collective undertaking or mutual-learning) is constructed on a base of generosity to create areas of change. All of the individuals who take part  actively have interaction within the regeneration of public infrastructures. With this strategy, I see how Casa Klumb has change into one among our assembly locations to collect to mirror upon the urgency that training faces in Puerto Rico.

Though we’ve got not bodily entered the gardens and forest that when surrounded Casa Klumb, we’ve got delved into its wild gardens and its “sickened” spatial sequences many instances. Our conversations contemplate what it means for a home to deteriorate and to bear traces of each colonial and ancestral histories. Collectively, we recognized ideological assets that time to Casa Klumb’s important type: a home, however a home as a residing organism open to collaboration with others.

Maybe it is necessary right here to say the connection between wellness of our bodies and structure/area as extensions of our bodies. This says that inside acknowledgement of  its histories, we’re conscious of its decay and consummation there’s additionally potential  for  perpetual regeneration. There’s a chance to heal and develop right here. 

The precept of our choices additionally outcomes from experiencing unimagined loss and mourning. Whereas responding to loss, I made a decision to actively have interaction in a celebration referred to as rosario cantao (singing rosaries) that has been of nice significance to our buddy and instructor Elsa Escabí8, who died in 2020. Might her soul relaxation in peace. Amongst different issues, Elsa compiled oral histories. By means of her we discovered how music is saved via lunar cycles, performed and sung with intentions of fertility via a communal expression, the rosario cantao

A 12 months in the past, in Might, Escuela de Oficios initiated a celebration of providing and take care of life and its transformations that has now change into a promise. Elsa will at all times be in our hearts. On the event of our first chantings of the rosary we had been interconnected with completely different places via an effort led by curators Mari Spirito and Abhijan Toto, an invite of progress and empowerment that I prolonged from my pricey group of unlearners. Inside this these altering and singin ceremonies, Don Rafael Trinidad, a grasp drum-maker and keeper of velatorios (vigils), who’s often known as a  promesero9 (keeper of guarantees) was main us all in a rosario cantao.

This week you’ll presenting our Tambor de Palma to the general public, displaying an excerpt from our movie in regards to the drum throughout the “Sick Structure” convention in Brussels.  I consider I’ve not shared with you that within the first days of this 12 months a drum was positioned in my fingers by a spiritualist neighbor, Cristina Savinón, caretaker of an Altar to San Miguel Arcangel, and he or she shared a narrative of how atabales10 might accompany the passing of somebody very esteemed by a group. Cristina talked about, if she had been to die within the Dominican Republic, palos could be heard for days and nights.

Quickly after I used to be to study in regards to the passing of the beloved plena musician Tito Matos and of how a plenero that holds collectively his group in all his efforts might be immortalized. Now I come to phrases that days and nights of a bomba y plena11 vigil would be the begin of a lifetime of remembrance by all who had been impacted by him.

We’ve got additionally discovered to domesticate from the lifeless with the chance to return a beat filled with humanity.

Final Might, our Altar was sung to for the primary time by Tito Matos, en paz descanse, along with Los Devotos, and esteemed artist and dancer Awilda Sterling. The group Los Devotos grew from group group efforts via the Taller Comunidad La Goyco, which sought to revitalize rosarios cantaos in Santurce, after the devastating hurricanes of 2017. Awilda shared phrases of knowledge a couple of exact second that occurs after we are in a position to study from our elders.

I’m very lucky to have such a affluent second to arrange an area that holds a way of being for All. From these preliminary chantings, I discovered, through Tito, how a profound and ongoing dedication to this expression is a strong option to honor communal cohesion. 

We’ve got been blessed with a assist construction–the land itself. And, particularly, a particularly beneficiant palm tree that has allowed us to see our ancestral house via its fibers. And as you point out Xipetotec, we’ve got additionally discovered to domesticate from the lifeless with the chance to return a beat filled with humanity. 

I want to echo what our instructor Rafael Trinidad shared with us when he introduced to us our first tambor de palma: “The tuntún12 of a drum is the beat of a coronary heart.

I would like you to consider your coronary heart, and take into consideration the center of the Creator, and take into consideration the center of all humanity, of all individuals. And beat that drum prefer it’s a coronary heart.”

Un GRAN abrazo,



1. Maguey is an indigenous plant of the Caribbean area, nicely regarded for its fiber. Its botanical title is Furcraea tuberosa. In Puerto Rico, extraction and spinning of the fiber continues to be utilized by few knowledge-holders to make hammocks. Maguey specimens fluctuate in several localities all through the hemisphere, all sharing traits of the agave household. Different native makes use of of the plant present medicinal properties. For instance, its roots could be brewed to cleanse blood stream, amongst different afflictions.
2. Don Eustaquio Alers is a grasp hammock weaver based mostly in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. At a younger age, he discovered hammock making by himself by watching his father weaving. Don Eustaquio’s beliefs of autonomy and independence of Puerto Rico are expressed with fervor and hope for the long run, whereas sharing his information concerning his commerce as weaver, one which compliments cultivation of the land. Eustaquio’s contribution to Escuela de Oficios wasthe conception of Banquetas Cheveres, moveable stools, that reach the ideas of a hammock loom.These completely different gathering areas had been extremely important to the platform’s improvement in its preliminary stage.
3. José Manuel “Chiro” González is a one among founding residents of Pueblo Indio, a self-organized group, in barrio La Central, Canóvanas. Pueblo Indio settles on the outskirts of wetland forests and previous and sugarcane plantation. Since a baby, Chiro has labored these lands. The development of the stilt-house got here to be as a technique to let passerbys of a custodianship of the forest.
4. Enea, “cattail” in English, is a tall grass, which grows abundantly in marshland environments. This beneficiant grass permits it to be plaited, knotted, and twisted. To correctly attain the fiber one ought to harvest on a waning moon and separate the stem of leaves. Per week later the fiber is able to be wetted and manipulated. This plant is considered a household and important collaborator to Escuela de Oficios.
5. Salchichas are little sausages, typically purchased in small cans and added to varied dishes. 
6. This out-loud studying of Puerto Rican anarco-feminist chief Luisa Capetillo, made at Chiro’s stilt home, brings collectively the voices of Monica Rodríguez and Michy Marxuach, amongst different contributors, as a part of La Germinal’s “Emancipatory Essays,” a public program transmitted via Montez Press Radio, as a part of Alia Farid’s exhibition “The Area Between Lecture rooms,” at Swiss Institute, Might twenty fourth, 2021.
7. Began in 2014, Escuela de Oficios (Commerce Faculty), is a platform for studying from and with Puerto Rican artisans extremely expert in craft traditions and rural building. González began the platform in response to historic erasure and deteriorating educational areas, utilizing skill-sharing and workshops to advertise therapeutic and make sure the continuity of strategies forgotten by the amnesia of colonization.
8. Elsa Escabí, esteemed information holder, devoted an incredible a part of her life to observing with profoundness many cultural expressions of Puerto Rico. Collectively together with her brother, Pedro Escabí, they compiled a way to register oral histories of the archipelago. As skilled musicians, their work compiles helpful registers and interpretations of fashionable songs, musical devices, and festivities, which traces indigenous continuity undermining the decided false extinction.
9. A promesero or promesera are keepers of guarantees, organizers of spiritual celebrations in native communities, typically held at a promiser’s house. A promise is saved via providing an altar, music, chantings, and meals, as an act of gratitude for a granted religious petition. Within the context of Puerto Rico, collective worship can convey collectively indigenous and African comunion and communication that always is expressed via Catholic beliefs. 
10. Atabales or palos are tall drums conventional to Dominican celebrations performed in spiritual and festive gatherings. 
11. Bomba and plena are fashionable Puerto Rican music traditions, each with deep roots in African drumming and significance in spiritual ceremony and the coming-together of group. Whereas bomba is a type of name and response between drummers and a dancer, plena is usually referred to as “the sung newspaper” as its songs usually recount on a regular basis tales and occasions. 
12. Tuntún is an onomatopoeia, standing in for the sound of a drumbeat

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