Bomba as “the Puerto Rican bamboulá”?

by Edgardo Díaz Díaz

The translation in Spanish of a book published in 1810 by French botanist Andre Pierre Ledrú may suggest possible ties between Bomba and bamboulá. The latter term refers to a drum and a related dance that was common in the French colonies, from Louisiana and Haiti, to Martinique and the French Guiana.

In 1797, Ledrú attended a party held in the Afro-Puerto Rican settlement of Loiza, where “a mixed group of whites, blacks and mulattoes …successively executed black and creole dances to the accompaniment of a guitar and a drum vulgarly called bamboula.”

The 1863 translation by Julio L. Vizcarrondo replaced the word bamboulá for Bomba in ways leading historians to assume that Ledrú’s observation was the first documented reference to Bomba.

Recent clarification and historiographic rectification may lead us to consider new assumptions concerning the early usage of Bomba to designate any expression of Black or African origin, including bamboulá. The probable early existence in Puerto Rico of bamboulá as music and drum may add to claims about the close-knit connections Puerto Ricans established with communities of strong African ancestry in the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States.

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1. "Voyage aux isles de Tenerif, La Trinite, St. Thomas, Ste. Croix, et Porto Rico, execute par l'ordre du gouvernement Frangais, par Andre Pierre Ledru l'un des naturalistes de l'expedition” In its original version in French, the text read : “Pendant mon séjour chez don Benito**, je fus témoin d’un bal que donnait l’econome de l’habitation, pour célébrer la naissance d’un premier enfant. L’assemblée était compose de 40 à 50 creoles des environs, de l’un et de l’autre sexe. […] Ordinairement indolents, sont passionés pour la danse. Le mélange de blancs, de mulatres et de nègres libres, formait un groupe assez plaisant: les hommes en pantalón et veste d’indienne, les femmes en robes blanches, avec de larges colliers d’or; tous la tète ceinte d’un mouchour peint et couverte d’un chapeau rond galonné, exécutèrent successivemente des danses nègres et créoles, au son de la guitar et du tambourin, nommé vulgairement bamboula. (Ledrú 1810: 75).
2. “…sucesivamente bailes africanos y criollos al son de la guitarra y del tamboril llamado vulgarmente bomba.”

Content credits Center for Puerto Rican Studies
Image Credits: Cortesy of Edgardo Díaz Díaz| All Rights Reserved