Tales From The Statespuerto Rican Genealogy


    Unit Guide

This edition of Tales From the Road is focused on travel narratives from Burma, but I also encourage you to read and respond to breaking news. At the bottom of this page I’ve included links to some good news articles, and a Google News search will no doubt turn up others. Your thoughts and comments are especially welcome. For at least 30 years I have been asking questions, jotting down notes, taking pictures, and listening to stories about my ancestors, about their neighbors, about the land, about Puerto Rico. I never imagined back in the 80's that my curiosity would ever be something that I'd share with the world. Taino stories, which would be the only authentic and pure expression of pre-Columbian natives of Puerto Rico, are non-existent. It is believed that the Tainos were Arawaks who migrated northward from South America and had been living in Boriquen for nearly 1,000 years when the Spaniards arrived.

Puerto Rican Folktales

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Give FeedbackThe folktales of Puerto Rico reflect the culture of the people who have lived or influenced the lifestyle of those people living there, the Tainos, the Spaniards, and the Africans. The historical reality of Puerto Rico is that it became part of the modern world as we know it today after Cristobal Colon encountered the island on November 19, 1493. Taino stories, which would be the only authentic and pure expression of pre-Columbian natives of Puerto Rico, are non-existent. It is believed that the Tainos were Arawaks who migrated northward from South America and had been living in Boriquen for nearly 1,000 years when the Spaniards arrived.

There had been other cultures in Puerto Rico before the Tainos, but they were nomads and left little evidence of their time and life on the island. The Tainos were fishermen, who eventually became farmers or hunters and established villages in different points of the island they called Boriquen. They did not have a written language and there are no written accounts of their culture or history passed on by them to future generations. Archaeologists are still trying to piece together what their lifestyle must have been like before their rapid and almost total extinction in the early sixteenth century due to illnesses and inhuman treatment given to them by the first colonists, the Spaniards.


There are, however, records written from oral tradition by the early Spanish settlers, especially by religious order members. Following orders given to him by Admiral Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) Friar Ramon Pane wrote in 1505 a series of detailed descriptions of the Tainos that lived on Hispaniola, now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. These natives had the same customs and beliefs as those of Boriquen (Puerto Rico). In his lengthy report, Friar Ramon wrote of Taino myths, such as; where the Tainos came from, how the sea came to be, the origin of the Sun and the Moon, and where the dead go and what they look like. There are descriptions of the Taino medicine man and many of the religious beliefs of the Tainos.

With the rapid extinction of the Tainos and as the Spanish colonization of Puerto Rico continued, black and white slaves were brought to Puerto Rico in the late sixteenth century to provide brute labor in the new colony being set up by Spain in Puerto Rico. They were needed to work in the sugar plantations, the mainstay of Puerto Rico for many years. Their legacy can be found in their music and dances. Like the Tainos before them, they have added some words to the Spanish vocabulary but did not make a strong impact in the developing culture of the colony. In general, with the passing of time, the black population of Puerto Rico assimilated into the Spanish culture. Stories from this group of people reflected their struggles and often futile attempts to be free.

The culture of the Puerto Rico of today is predominantly Spanish with traces of Taino Indian and Black influences. According to theAmerican Heritage Dictionary, “culture” is defined as “the arts, beliefs, customs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought created by a people or group at a particular time.” The Spanish acculturation process of Puerto Rico began almost five hundred years ago; three cultures (possibly multiple cultures) came together in Puerto Rico soon after that fateful day of November 19, 1493. The folk tales that are told in Puerto Rico today reflect basically Spanish themes with island adaptations and very little Taino or African participation. The tales, in general, have undergone changes in numbers, names, or settings which are more tropical or similar to Puerto Rico.

Among some of the other products of human work or thought are stories in different forms, such as myths, legends, folk tales, and fairy tales. A folk tale is simply defined inWebster’s New World Dictionaryas “a story, usually of anonymous authorship and containing legendary elements, made and handed down orally among common people. “


In the early twentieth century, an extensive survey and collection of Puerto Rican folklore was carried out by J. Alden Mason and Aurelio M. Espinosa. In Volume 29 of “The Journal of American Folklore” (October-December 1916), the first of several articles was published. In this collection of Puerto Rican folklore, there are riddles, rhymes, games, folktales, tales of enchantment, animal stokes, songs, and other types of oral expression. According to J. Mason;

“Many of those folktales are evidently versions of the European riddle-tales, but a large number are new creations, with traditional elements confused and mingled. In a special cycle, the Juan Booboo, or John the Simple, tales, the traditional riddle-tales have been especially utilized.”1
Professor Aurelio M. Espinosa spent seven months in Spain (June 1920-January 1921) researching the roots of the tales told in Spanish America. He concludes that:“. . . I have verified fully some of the theories which I have always held relative to the sources of some of the important folk-lore material found in New Mexico and other parts of Spanish America . . . After our material is published, I am sure that some of our Negro and Indian folklorists will have to revise some of their theories as to the sources of many folk-tales found among the Negroes and Indians.

Greater and more important, may be the question of the relation of many of these Spanish folk-tales to the actual material from which they certainly come;namely, the Celtic, Germanic, Arabic, . . . and ultimately the greatest and most important fountain of European tradition, India. “2

J. Alden Mason and Professor Espinosa see Spain as the source of the vast majority of tales in Spanish-America with little Indian or African contribution. Espinosa even doubted the origin of the Tar Baby tale as African but believed it to be Spanish.

In their monumental collection of Puerto Rican folklore, Mason and Espinosa printed several versions of the same tale. Juan Booboo, a popular character in Puerto Rican tales, can be traced to the Spanish picaresque tales of “Pedro de Urdemales”. In another Spanish colony, the Philippines, there is another Juan, who is just as silly and dumb as Juan Booboo and many of their tales are exactly the same or very similar to the Puerto Rican versions. In the Philippines, however, the tales are traced to Indonesia, India, and Ceylon. Could it be possible that the Juan Booboo tales have come around full circle and reached their point of origin?

After many years of collecting and classifying folktales from Spanish-America, Aurelio M. Espinosa concludes:

“We use the term Spanish-American to denote folk tales collected from regions where the native languages are extinct or on the way to extinction. But we also call Spanish-American folk tales those collected from regions for the most part racially Indian, where the people or most of them speak Spanish, but have not absorbed completely what we might call European Spanish culture or even colonial Spanish culture.”3
Dr. Ricardo Alegria, the Director of the Center for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, and a renowned authority on Puerto Rican culture, especially Puerto Rican folk tales, who I interviewed on April 20, 1993, expressed his concern about the lack of interest on behalf of Puerto Rican students and educators on the island and on the mainland in their rich cultural roots. At the same time, he was very happy to hear that the Yale-New Haven Teachers’ Institute was holding this seminar and specifically the interest in Puerto Rican tales. In the interview, he pointed out the recent change of political power in favor of statehood, the powerful influence of American businesses, television, and educational practices in Puerto Rico as some of the factors involved in the decline in the interest and protection of the Puerto Rican cultural heritage.

Children need to hear folktales, fairy tales, myths, and legends told by their ancestors. They receive their cultural legacy through these stories. By integrating Puerto Rican tales into the classroom, the Puerto Rican students will be exposed to cultural and historical aspects of their heritage. Folktales are stories that transmit culture and values, if children are deprived of these stories, a very important and crucial element of their growth and development has been left out.

Many of these children are unaware of or have never heard fables, legends, or folktales from Puerto Rico. This may be due to lack of time to tell stories, interest in, or knowledge of these stories on behalf of their parents or relatives. Another possibility may be total immersion into the North American mainstream lifestyle and assimilation into it, which excludes any learning: of native roots and culture. Besides learning English and the ways of the people of the United States, however, these children also need to fill a native culture void in their lives.

The regular students will also benefit because these stories are from the island where many of their friends and classmates come from and[ they will be enriched with the stories because they show a different way of seeing things, life, love, etc. or give another viewpoint on an historical event.

There's so much more to Halloween than dressing up in costumes and eating the giant bag of candy you bought to give trick-or-treaters. One of the best parts about this time of year is the fact that the spookiness of every day life is not only allowed, but encouraged. Who doesn't love some scary decorations of skeletons propped up outside of houses, or a good ol' haunted hayride?

I certainly love and embrace it all, but one of my favorite things to do this time of year is read ghost stories. Reading about calls coming from inside the house, creepy clown statues that turn out to be murderers, or the cell phone of a man making calls after his death (which is apparently true, and just gave me chills) is truly an awesome way to get into that holiday spirit. After all, how often are we allowed to revel in the terrifying without being considered weird or morbid? Not often.

Sure, it's super-easy to just read the Horrors section of Snopes.com, or a whole mess of creepy novels, but for those who want a bit of international flair thrown in with their spooky, I've compiled a list of 10 scary folktales from around the world. Join me in feudal Japan, by a river in Mexico City, on a train in Stockholm, and several more locations while I spin a creepy yarn for you.

Are you afraid of these ghosts?

La Llorona, The Weeping Woman

Coming at you from Mexico is the tale of La Llorona, or translated 'the weeping woman'. Legend has it that La Llorona began as a beautiful woman named Maria who drowned her children in a river because her husband left her for various reasons, usually involving boredom or a younger woman. Suddenly full of remorse over what she had done, she threw herself in river as well. Unfortunately for Maria, it turns out that drowning your children in rivers does not give you a ticket into heaven. Cursed to wander riverbanks for eternity, La Llorona weeps as she walks, kidnapping children and drowning them in the misguided hope that her children will forgive her. Often used as a sort of boogeyman to scare young children, it's been said that those who hear her cry are fated for death.

Silverpilen, The Ghost Train of Stockholm

Not a specific story, but more of a recurring character in many Swedish urban legends, the Silverpilen was a strange train — silver instead of the normal green trains — not often seen by residents of Stockholm. Starting in the 1980s, rumors began to spread that the Silverpilen was a ghost train. Legend has it that if a passenger is picked up by the wayward train they would disappear forever, or resurface weeks or even years later with no memory of where they had been. It's said that the cars are either empty, or full of ghosts, and occasionally it's connected with an abandoned train station called Kymling, leading to the phrase 'Bara de döda stiger av i Kymling' or 'Only the dead get off at Kymlinge.' Try not to think about that the next time you're in New York City and waiting for the subway!

Botan Dōrō, or The Peony Lantern

Half-love story, half-ghost story, and wholly terrifying, the story of the Peony Lantern began in 17th century Japan. Although many versions exist, they all follow the same general premise: on the night of Obon (a Japanese festival that honors the spirits of one's ancestors), a widowed samurai named Ogiwara meets a beautiful woman named Otsuyu, always accompanied by a young girl holding a peony lantern. The lovers meet in secret from dusk until dawn, and one day an old woman who has lived by Ogiwara for many years grows suspicious. Spying on the two of them, the old woman is horrified to discover Ogiwara in a loving embrace with a skeleton. Needless to say, he's a bit horrified to discover this as well, but his love for Otsuyu is too great, and the story ends with his dead body wrapped in her skeleton. This story has endured for centuries, having been a kabuki play, the subject of several paintings, as well as several films.

Deer Woman

Stalking the Mid-to-Pacific Northwest is the Deer Woman, a creature that features in the mythology of several Native American tribes, most notably the Chippewa. Her form alternates between that of an old woman or a a deer, but she mostly favors the form of a young and beautiful maiden with the feet and legs of a deer. The Deer Woman often enjoys standing just off the hunting trail, hoping to lure young men over to her so that she can trap them with her magic before it's too late. She is also fond of dancing, known to enter dancing circles to dance the night away, occasionally using her beauty and dancing ability to lure young men out into the forest. According to the Chippewa, she can be chased away with a chant, tobacco, or by simply noticing that her feet aren't human.

Kuchisake-Onna or the Slit-Mouthed Woman

Another ancient Japanese tale, the story of Kuchisake-Onna was revived in the 1970s, becoming incredibly popular and prevalent. The tale is a simple one: You're walking alone on the street and run into a woman wearing a surgical mask, which is a popular enough thing to see when it's cold season in Asia. The woman will ask you 'Am I pretty?' If you say no, she will murder you with a pair of scissors that she carries. If yes, she will remove her mask to reveal that her mouth has been slit from ear to ear, à la Heath Ledger's Joker... and then will Jokerize you as well. Although that idea of random ghost murder is terrifying, in 2007 a coroner found records from the 1970s of a woman who chased children, a woman with her mouth slit from ear to ear.

The Human-Eating Tree of Madagascar

The idea of a human-eating tree may seems too crazy to be true, but back in 1874, knowledge of this mystical plant was all the rage thanks to German explorer Carl Liche. In the South Australian Register, Liche had this to say about his experience with the 'Mkodo tribe' of Madagascar:

From the top of the tree sprout long hairy green tendrils and a set of tentacles, constantly and vigorously in motion, with ... a subtle, sinuous, silent throbbing against the air. [Presented a woman as offering], the slender delicate palpi, with the fury of starved serpents, quivered a moment over her head, then as if instinct with demoniac intelligence fastened upon her in sudden coils round and round her neck and arms; then while her awful screams and yet more awful laughter rose wildly to be instantly strangled down again into a gurgling moan, the tendrils one after another, like great green serpents, with brutal energy and infernal rapidity, rose, retracted themselves, and wrapped her about in fold after fold, ever tightening with cruel swiftness and savage tenacity of anacondas fastening upon their prey.
Tales from the states puerto rican genealogy society

Although carnivorous plants do exist, the Human-Eating Tree of Madagascar, Carl Liche, and the Mkodo Tribe do not, thankfully. However, the concept of Human-Eating trees and other plants still frighten us today, as well it should.

Davy Jones' Locker

Back in the day, being a sailor was a lot more than knowing which direction port and starboard is, or getting really cool mermaid tattoos. In fact, most sailors (and by this I mean most sailors of British and American persuasion) developed a rich folklore all of their own. There are the usual superstitions: adopting a black cat would bring the ship some luck, touching a sailor's collar would also bring good fortune, but whistling and carrying a banana on board would bring nothing but bad luck to everyone. One of the most well known folktales of the high seas belongs to the story of Davy Jones. Far from being the cute lead singer of The Monkees, Davy Jones was largely considered to be the devil to most sailors, with the idea of being sent to Davy Jones' Locker (another word for a chest or trunk) being a rather ominous euphemism for drowning. While the origin of this deep sea devil is currently unknown, one of his earliest descriptions comes from The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, originally published by Tobias Smollett in 1751:

This same Davy Jones, according to sailors, is the fiend that presides over all the evil spirits of the deep, and is often seen in various shapes, perching among the rigging on the eve of hurricanes:, ship-wrecks, and other disasters to which sea-faring life is exposed, warning the devoted wretch of death and woe.

Hawaiian Nightmarchers

Coming from Native Hawaiian tradition are the Nightmarchers, or huaka'i pō , which means 'Spirit Ranks,' ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors who rise from their grave on certain sacred nights to march out to re-enact old battles once more. Often marching right after sunset or right before dawn, they are known to kill whomever witnesses the march, although there are ways around this. If one of your ancestors are among the ranks you can be spared, but if that is not the case you can also avert your eyes, or in some parts lay face down on the ground to show respect. To respect them will lead to great things, but if you don't it almost always leads to death.


There are many categories of ghosts in Bengali culture, from the Petni (the ghosts of women who have died unmarried) to the Nishi (ghosts who lure victims into danger by calling to them in the voice of a loved one), but the Skondhokatas are a relatively modern invention. These ghosts are exclusively victims of decapitation by train. They often plead the living that stumble upon them for help to find their lost heads, and have been known to enslave those who aren't willing to help, or even turn to violence. Thanks to their lack of brain power (they don't have brains, after all) they are relatively easy to outsmart.

Tales From The States Puerto Rican Genealogy Information

El Chupacabra, or The Goat-sucker

First sighted in Puerto Rico, the Chupacabra (literally translated to mean 'The Goat-sucker') is a monster whose description varies, but is often thought to be roughly the size of a small bear. Originally reported in 1995 after a series of mysterious animal killings that drained all the blood from the poor creatures, there have been reported sightings all over North American, from as far north is Maine to as far south as Chile. Still staunchly believed in today, there seems to be no limit to where the creature can travel, and its love of sucking blood through tiny circular incisions is chilling to say the least. The next time you're walking alone at night in North America... beware!

Tales From The States Puerto Rican Genealogy Society

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