The municipality of Loiza, Puerto Rico is located on the north-eastern coast of the island, and encompasses approximately 65.4 square kilometers of terrain. Loiza, Puerto Rico is to the north of Canovanas, east of Carolina and west of Rio Grande, and is divided into five wards, with Loiza Pueblo as the administrative center. The population of Loiza, Puerto Rico is 31,000, and the land is reaches a maximum of 100 meters above sea level at the highest points of the municipality.
People from Loiza have been given many nicknames over the years. Los Santeros (the Saint Worshippers) refers to the importance of the saints to the people of the area, while Los Cocoteros (the Coconut Harvesters) relates to the fact that coconuts have long been an main crop produced in Loiza. Loiza, Puerto Rico is also given the distinguished title of the Capital of Tradition, or the Artisan City, as it is a centre for cultural activities and the arts.
The flag of Loiza, Puerto Rico is colored red and gold, the colors of the Spanish flag, and green to represent the town’s coastal position. A bell tower decorates the red, left hand side of the flag to represent the Christian tradition. The Coat of Arms shows a figure of Santiago Apostle on horseback, , leafs to represent the saints, a crown to represent the Cacique Yuiza, and a wavy line to represent the river.
How did Loiza, Puerto Rico Get Its Name?
It is commonly believed that Loiza, Puerto Rico was named for the island’s only female Taino Cacique (cheiftain) Yuiza. Yuiza controlled the lands of an area called Aymanio, and when the Spanish colonists arrived, it is believed that she chose to be baptised into the Catholic faith, taking the Spanish name “Loiza”. It is possible that she chose this name in honour of her godfather, Luis de Aňasco.
Documentation surviving from this period is scarce, however the legend of Yuiza suggests that she married a Spanish man called Pedro Mejias. Marriage between Taino women and Spanish or European men was not unknown at this period, and if the marriage did take place, it is likely that it was Yuiza’s attempt to protect her people from slavery. Yuiza was killed in 1515 – some interpretation say that her death occurred as she defended her land from invading Carib tribes, while others say that she was killed by her own people, who were offended by her acceptance of the Catholic faith and marriage of a Spanish man.
More recently, some historians have put forward the somewhat less romantic theory that Loiza, Puerto Rico was named for an influential Spaniard – Iňigo Lopez de Cervantes y Loayza, an inspector for the Spanish Crown, who owned significant amounts of land in the area.
History of Loiza, Puerto Rico
Loiza, Puerto Rico is one of the oldest settlements on the island. The Chronicles of Puerto Rico, written in the early 1500′s noted that the indigenous people known as Taíno inhabited the area of what would later become Loiza. Additionally, archaeological evidence discovered in the 20th Century proved that Loiza had been used by various tribes-people for thousands of years.
The arrival of the Spanish conquistadors marked an ending to the typical Taíno way of life. The Taíno were used as slaves, and forced to give up their religious practices. The Taíno people who lived in the area which is now Loiza were forced to mine for gold in Rio Cayranbon (now Rio Grande).
Records from this troubled time mentioned that in 1524, the small settlement of Loiza was destroyed by Carib tribes. By 1570, the gold resources had run dry, and the Spanish turned their attention to a new money-making prospect – sugar plantations. At this stage, the number of Taino people was diminished, due to the introduction of diseases which they had no immunity to and mistreatment under the Spanish masters.
In order to replace the Taíno laborers, the Spanish began to import slaves from Africa, particularly Nigeria. Further documentation from this time mentions a plague of ants which took place in 1645, throughout the north of the Puerto Rico. The ants caused damage to cassava crops, a tuber which was a staple food stuff, particularly amongst the slaves and remaining Taíno tribes.
During the 1660s, the population of Loiza was to see a great increase in population. The isolated position of the colony, and separation from the rest of the island by Rio Grande meant that the area was identified as a weak spot in Puerto Rico’s defences.
The Governor of the island decided to increase the population of the area by sending slaves to live there. Many of these slaves were African runaways from the British controlled islands of Jamaica and Santa Dominica, and there were also a large number of “free blacks” – slaves who had earned their freedom but chosen to stay in the Caribbean.
Large numbers of people from an African background stayed in Loiza, some marrying and having families with Taíno. Studies into the current population of Loiza, Puerto Rico show that many of the people living in the area can trace their heritage back to their African and Taíno ancestors through their DNA. An interesting point to note is that the people of Loiza have long followed a fishing tradition. This may appear strange, as slaves were taught to fear water – it is believed that the Taíno passed their skills onto the African people who settled in the area.
By 1692, Loiza, Puerto Rico had 100 houses and a population of around 1000. The first moves to declare the area of a town were started in 1690, however Loiza was not founded until 1719. Loiza was founded by the Governor of Puerto Rico, Gaspar de Arredondo, under orders from the Spanish Crown.
At this time, it was known as Loiza Aldea. By 1852, three sugar mills were in operation in the area of Loiza, Puerto Rico. Some of these were run by Irish immigrants, who left their homelands due to famine, and with the promise from the Spanish Crown of a better life on the island.
Between 1902 -1905, Loiza was annexed to the nearby area of Rio Grande for administrative purposes, and between 1909 and 1969 was divided into Loiza and Canovanas. Loiza did not become a municipality until August 16 1970, by declaration of the Puerto Rican governor Luis A Ferre.
Festivals & African Heritage in Loiza, Puerto Rico
Loiza is famous throughout the island of Puerto Rico for its close connection with the traditions and heritage of the island. Loiza is one of the places where the interconnection of African, Spanish and Taíno cultures can best be seen and experienced in Puerto Rico.
The biggest event in Loiza, and one that attracts visitors from across the globe is the Festival of St James the Apostle. Taking place in the second part of July, the three day religious festival involves serious religious parades, along with a healthy dose of fun and frolics. During the religious processions, three saint icons are carried through the streets – Santiago de los Hombres for the men, Santiago de las Mujeres, for the women, and Santiago de los Niňos for the children.
Legend has it that the original 6 inch tall Santiago statue was found in the roots of a cork tree in the area of Las Carreras. The statue was taken to the church, and three times disappeared, reappearing in the roots of the tree. The original cork tree was damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, but was replaced with a sapling, allowing future generations to continue to traditions.
Loiza’s unique take on the Spanish festival of the “Moors and Christians” is also notable for its costumes, in particular masks. Many participants dress up as Cabelleros, Viejos, Locos or Vejigantes. The Cabellero character is the Spanish knight of old, taking a fairly serious role in the proceedings and representing the triumph of good over evil. Cabelleros were jackets and brightly coloured trousers, and often top off the outfit with a straw Jibaro hat.
The other main character of the festivities is the Vejigantes, who represent devils or bad spirits. Veijigantes wear horned masks and outfits with wing-like attachments to the sleeves, as well as carrying inflated cow bladders. Two more minor characters are the Viejos – who wear old clothes and cardboard masks and often play music, and the Locos – men dressed up as women, who perform “chores” such as sweeping the streets, and often dance to the music played by the Viejos.
Bomba music, which was invented by sugar plantation slaves in the Loiza area, is a the main accompaniment to the celebrations. The musical style was originally a way for the slaves to express themselves, make plans or celebrate special occasions.
Another type of celebration which used to be performed in Loiza, but according to most sources, has not occurred for many years is the Baquine. This ceremony was used by the African slaves as a way of mourning the death of a child, with music and song.
Attractions in Loiza, Puerto Rico
Loiza, Puerto Rico is home to several artists, who express their sentiments about their town, their people and their culture through their creativity. One of the best known artists from Loiza is Samuel Lind, who was born in the town. He welcomes visitors for a guided tour of his studio, where a variety of artworks in different mediums can be seen, and purchased.
Lind has lived in Loiza for his whole life, and his skills as an artist recognized at an early age by a teacher, who helped him to develop his talents by supplying him with art materials. Another of Loiza’s artists is Raul Ayala, a second generation mask maker. Raul’s father, Castor, started mask-making in the 1940s to support his family, and taught the traditional techniques to his son. Raul sells his hand-made masks from his workshop in Loiza. The Ayala brothers are also well-known for their musical talents and often play at local events.
Loiza, Puerto Rico also offers a good selection of natural beauty spots. Paseo Julia Burgos is a small park on the banks of Rio Grande. Burgos was born in the nearby neighbourhood of Carolina, and grew up to become one of Puerto Rico’s best known poets. Her most famous poem is entitled Rio Grande, and is inspired by the river, which has the highest flow rate on the island.
Also on the banks of the river is the Herrera bridge which connects Loiza and Piňones. Until the 1980s, anyone wishing to cross the river had to use a ferry. Piňones is an area which stretches from Loiza to the eastern tip of Isla Verde near San Juan. Made up of mangrove, pine forests and sandy beaches and classified as a State Forest, the area is managed by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources.
More than 46 bird species have been recorded in Piňones State Forest, while manatees and sea turtles nest and feed in the lagoons along the coast. It is possible to explore the interior of the forest on foot or mountain bike, however many people drive along the coastal road, where shacks selling traditional Afro-Caribbean food and snacks and be found in abundance.
Other points of interest include Playa Aviones, an undeveloped beach with consistent strong waves which appeal to surfers and water-sport enthusiasts. The Cultural Centre in Loiza town offers a historical perspective on African heritage and slavery. Another main attraction is Saint Patrick Church (also called Espiritu Santo). The church was founded in 1670 and is the oldest church in continuous use on the island.
Many visitors also take time to see La Cueva de Maria La Cruz. Local historian Ricardo Alegria was excavating the cave in 1948, when he came across artefacts including conch shells, tools and hatchets. These items were dated to the Coroso period, between 3,200 and 1,800 years ago. These pre-Taíno inhabitants of Puerto Rico were semi-nomadic people who lived on the coastal, and unlike their Taíno successors, did not farm or grow food crops.
Famous People from Loiza, Puerto Rico
Ivan Calderon, major league baseball player.
Tego Calderon, musician known for his innovative Reggaethon style, using Puerto Rican rhythms.
Miguel Villaran, major league baseball player.
William Cepeda, musician and composer.