Afro-Puerto Rican

Afro-Puerto Rican(Afro-Boriquin, Afroborincano) are Puerto Ricans of African descent. The first blacks arriving with the Spaniards were free. Puerto Rico has always had a larger free black population than slave population, through-out the 500 years of black occupation. 

The Puerto Rican government stopped reporting ethnicity in 1950, so it was difficult to verify Afro-Puerto Rican numbers. They are sometimes confused with Dominicans living on the island. World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples put them at a range of 22-65%. CIA Factbook put the number at 6.5% Black and 4.4% mixed. According to recent 2010 census, 461,000 identify themselves as solely black making them 11.58%(461,000/3,978,702) of the population, an increase of 50%. Afro-Puerto Ricans tend to concentrate in the eastern part of the island, the coastal lowlands around cities like Ponce and San Juan, areas such as Cangrejos (Santurce), Carolina, Canóvanas, and Loíza Aldea.

Early History

The first blacks who arrived in Puerto Rico arrived as freemen called libertos. They arrived with Columbus in 1493. Prominent liberto was Juan Garrido, who arrived with Juan Ponce de Leon, first president of Puerto Rico. Another prominent liberto was Francis Gallego, the first black entrepreneur in Puerto Rico. Most libertos came from Seville, Spain. They came seeking work and were mostly domestics. Libertos assisted the Spaniards in conquering the Tainos.

Timeline of Afro-Puerto Rican History

1493 First Blacks in Puerto Rico, came with Columbus
1508 First enslaved Africans in Puerto Rico
1514 First slave revolt
1775-1873 numerous slave revolts (22 reported)
1530 1,523 enslaved Africans in Puerto Rico
1673 census 1,791 free blacks, 667 slaves
1848 Banda Contra La Raza Africana attempt to controll slaves and free blacks
1869 census 237,711 free blacks, 39,069 slaves
1855 Abolition Society form to pressure Spain to end slavery
1870 Ley Moret or Moret Law-- free womb law
1873 Slavery abolished completely
1950s League to Promote the Advancement of Blacks in Puerto Rico formed


The early slave population of Puerto Rico was very small. More free blacks than slaves existed in Puerto Rico for most of her history. Slavery was authorized in 1510. In 1530, 1,500 slaves were on the island of Puerto Rico, by 1555 15,000 existed. These figures don't include the illegal slave population, which was very much present. More African slaves were brought in to replace the native Taino population, which had been greatly diminished via disease, warfare, and slavery at the end of the 1500s.

After the introduction of the sugar industry, slave importation increased immensely. Between 1776 to 1818, the slave population increased from 6,573 to 31,874.

 Year  Population  % of Pop.
 1776 65,37   8.1%
 1812 17,536  9.6%
 1820 21,730   9.4%
 1827 31,874   10.5%

The slave population reached its peak in the 1840s. The slave population was at 51,265 versus free colored at 175,000. Slave importation began to diminish because Puerto Rican haciendas could not compete with the Cuban haciendas in the international slave markets.  

The treatment of slaves were harsh. Slaves were branded like cattle with hot irons called carimbo. Female slaves were highly sought because holders could replenish labor stock locally. Females were often the objects of sexual and physical abuse. Some would be punished even while pregnant and expected to lay flat while being whipped. 

Slaves could be set free by purchasing themselves, which was rare. Slaves could also get their freedom by reporting conspiracies and revolts and receive 500 pesos, a much encouraged method. Cimarrones were encourage to return escaped slaves, for their freedom. Slaves could also be set free for good behavior. Since Puerto Rico had a large free black population, some slaves posed as free workers moving from town to town.

In 1826, governor Miguel de La Torre, pass laws regulating the treatment of slaves, largely due to the numerous revolts and conspiracies. It required slaves be fed properly. Slaves with acute illness had to be provided for . Domesticated slaves had to be baptize. It dispensed harsh treatment to rebellious slaves. 

Slavery was abolished in the Spanish Crown in 1870, by the Moret Law. It set slaves, born between 1868-1870, free. Slaves over 60 were also set free. The Moret Law set free 10,000 slaves. Slavery was officially abolish completely in Puerto Rico March 22, 1873, largely due to economic factors and the independence movement tied to anti-slavery movements in Puerto Rico. In the latter 1800s, most planters in Puerto Rico were in debt. The sugar industry was not profitable.

By the 1850, Puerto Rico was demanding independence and with that the abolition of slavery. Puerto Rico's independence movement worked hand in hand with the abolition movement. In 1855, Ramon Emeterio Betances founded the Sociedad Abolicionista Espanol(Spanish Abolitionist Society). In 1867, Betances was implicated in the Grito de Lares revolt against Spain. This revolt solidified opposition to slavery.


Slaves would revolt periodically. The first slave revolt took place in 1514, organized by blacks and Taino. Between 1775-1873, Puerto Rico saw numerous revolts. 22 conspiracies were reported between 1795-1848. Towns like Guayama and Ponce were known for revolts. Slave would runaway finding cimarrones on mountainous regions on the island. Some would flee to other islands like the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Marcos Xiorro was Puerto Rico's most famous conspirator, who planned to attack multiple plantation but whose plot was aborted. Rumors had it he requested military aid from Haiti.


Puerto Rico had a large free colored population. They lived very restricted lives. Even with restricted opportunities some were able to purchase homes and own businesses. In 1838-1868, the Puerto Rican government enacted laws the required all men between 16-60 to carry la libreta, a notebook stating job status, employed or unemployed. If the book stated unemployed and lazy, the individual had to move to another town. It was one way of controlling the free population. 

In 1848, Governor Juan Prim passed an excessive laws aimed at controlling not just the slave population but the free black population, the Bando Contra La Raza Africana (Proclammation Against the African Race). Its penalties were harsh for minor offenses. A black could have his hands cut off for raising it against a white man, even in self-defense. Long prison terms were issued for insulting or threatening a white person. The law did not last long, it was repealed the same year.

Puerto Rico had developed into a color caste system, where skin tone and hair texture determined social and economic worth. The lighter one had more opportunities and worth, in the society. many freed blacks contended with that system. Individual could advance by marrying lighter. Darker skin and very coiled hair became synonymous with low status and slaves. Among the whites, mixing became associated with illegitimacy and low status. They shunned mixing as violation of the Spanish Limpeza de Sangre( Purity of Blood).  

In 1815, Ferdinand VII issued the Real Cedula de Gracias(Royal Decree of Graces)  to increase the white population in Puerto Rico ("whitening") and to stimulate commerce via increased African slave importation. By 1820,  there were 104,000 free blacks in Puerto Rico. Between 1820-1840, the mulatto and black population was greater than the white population, but in the latter half the white population began to increase. Some scholars attribute the latter to fluid definition of race, not just to immigration. Whiteness could be bought. At this time, those who had accumulated wealth could have records change, declaring themselves white. This whitening went on straight into the 20th Century. In 1899, Puerto-Rico was 61.8% white and by 2000, 80.5% white. In 2010, the percentage of the white population has gone down, due to more Puerto-Ricans declaring themselves solely as black and indian.


Puerto Rico on December 10, 1898 was ceded to the United States after the Spanish-American War. American racial views impacted Puerto-Rican society in multiple ways. Among those who were considered white, now were viewed as black. Some were offended. They were forced to served with all black segregated regiments. Some scholars believe, the latter was an incentive to "whitening" Puerto Rico, presenting Puerto Rico as a predominantly white island. Second, the racism experienced in the United States by Afro-Puerto Ricans caused many to advocate for Puerto Rican independence and fight racism at home, preserve and teach Afro-Puerto Rican culture.

Afro-Puerto Ricans continue to exist at the lowest strata of Puerto-Rican society, lowest paying jobs, poorest neigborhoods. Color bigotry remains rampant but rarily admitted.

Cultural Influence

The African element in Puerto Rican identity is inseparable. Africa has left an immense mark on Puerto Rican culture. It is reflected in her language, cuisine, religion, and people.

Puerto Ricans speak a spanish creole call bozal. When Puerto Ricans speak, they drop the R and S sound. The R and S sound did not exist in African languages. The habit of dropping consonant and the up and down intonation of Puerto Rican speech are an African features. Africans added to the vocabulary of Puerto Rican Spanish: chango, bernbe, mango, rumba.

African influences can be seen in her cuisine. African influences can be seen in the following dishes: bacalao, arroz con gandules, plantanos, pasteles, sancocho, mofongo (green bananas with meat), gandinga (stewed or marinated pork livers with vinegar and garlic), funche (mushed cornmeal), guanimos (cornmeal croquettes),  and sambumbia (an elaborate salad).  

The African influences can be seen in her music.The bomba and plena musical forms reflect african influences. The latter forms utilizes african derived instruments such as bongos, timbales, marimbas, etc. Dances such as the mariyanda and candungue all reflect African influences. 

Lastly, Puerto Rican religious practices have been impacted. Syncretism has occurred with the Roman Catholic religion and African religions. Saints can represent and correspond to African gods.

Famous Afro-Puerto Ricans

  • Arturo Alfonso Schomburg 
  • Antonio Broccoli -artist
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Felipe Luciano
  • Felix Tito Trinidad
  • Giancarlo Esposito
  • Ismael Rivera
  • José Campeche
  • José Celso Barbosa
  • Jesus Colon
  • La La Vasquez
  • La India
  • Lauren Velez
  • Lloyd Banks
  • Maxwell
  • Mayra Santos Frebbes
  • Miguel Nunez
  • Nore
  • Pedro Albizu Campos
  • Pedro Telemaco
  • Pilar Barbosa
  • Rafael Cordero
  • Roberto Clemente-baseball player
  • Rosario Dawson
  • Rosie Perez
  • Ruth Fernandez-singer
  • Samuel Lind -artist
  • Shar Jackson
  • Sylvia del Villard
  • Tego Calderon- Rapper
  • Tite Curet
  • Tito Trinidad
  • Lazario
Related Articles

Works Cited

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. Afro-Puerto Ricans.

Calderon, Tego. Black Pride, Latin America Needs Its Own Civil Rights Movement says the World-Famous Rapper.  New York Post 15 Feb. 2007. retrieved 03-October-2011.

Coto, Danica. Prico sees increased in Blacks, American Indians. ABC News 1-April-2011, retrieved 03-October-2011.

Best, Leslie K(2010). The Afro-Latino: A Historical Journey. pp. 46-49

Martinez, Robert A. African Aspects of the Puerto Rican Personality. IPOAA Magazine, Indigenous People of Africa and America. retrieved 18-Feb-2012

Yo Soy Tambien Boricua Pa' Que Tu Lo Sepas(Parts 1,2,3). uploadd by Afroboriquen. on Youtube. retrieved 21-Feb-2012

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