Spanish musical instruments began to be brought to Puerto Rico in the late 15th century, although it was not until 1512 that a shipment of vihuelas and lutes was first documented on the island. Autochthonous string instruments began to develop from these Spanish chordophones all over the Americas. In Puerto Rico these instruments are the tiple, the cuatro, and the bordonúa.
Puerto Ricans began to use native resources of the island to recreate Spanish instruments, and later, to create variations of these. Fabrication techniques were usually rustic. At first, any available wood was used, but this was a serious problem, since many woods are hard to carve or their properties change after they dry out. Native woods that were used then —and that are still in use— to make instruments include yagrumo (trumpet tree), guayacán (lignum vitae), laurel (loblolly sweetwood), and guaraguao (muskwood). The strings were originally made from cat or goat gut. Today, the strings are made of metal or synthetic materials such as nylon.
The cuatro, the tiple, and the bordonúa evolved differently. Today, the best-known string instrument in Puerto Rico is the cuatro. It is considered to be the national instrument and is emblematic of country or jíbaro music. It is also one of the principal instruments used in Christmas caroling for singing aguinaldos.
The tiple is the smallest of the string instruments and it has an acute sound. The instrument has developed differently in different regions on the island, and it is thought that this lack of uniformity contributed to its falling out of use. Nevertheless, there are musicians and craftspeople who have kept the tradition of the tiple alive, and there is even a movement called “Movimiento Pro Rescate del Tiple Puertorriqueño” (movement to rescue the Puerto Rican tiple) that has devoted its efforts to studying the origin and development of this instrument.
The bordonúa is a kind of small guitar with a deep sound. The bordonúa has had a diverse evolution, so that today there is no consensus regarding the fabrication and tuning of the instrument. In the 1980s, the musician and musicologist Francisco López-Cruz began to write a method for learning the bordonúa, and he devoted himself to teaching this instrument.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Source: Francisco Marrero Ocasio, Los instrumentos de cuerda en Puerto Rico, 2003. CD Vuelvo a mi Estrella. Taller Musical Retablo.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: August 28, 2014.
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