Updated: Dec 6, 2022
The following is something I wrote as an introduction to my film series Jurakán. I'll read it tonight before we watch the first films in the series, Bryam Jimenez's short animated film "Las Paredes de Mi Tierra," and Cecilia Aldarrondo's Landfall.
Hurricanes are a fact of life in the Caribbean.
The indigenous people who used to inhabit Puerto Rico, the Taino, worshipped the mother goddess Atabey, and her two sons, Huracán and Yuquiyu. Huracán is the god of wind, chaos and discord. Yuquiyu is the god of agriculture, peace and tranquility, who it was believed lived on top of the highest mountain in the El Yunque rainforest. It was Yuquiyu’s job to protect the people from Huracán. The memory of these gods still lives on in the popular imagination of contemporary Puerto Rico, and surfaces in memes like the image of Yuquiyu, seated on his throne atop El Yunque, ready to do battle with Huracán, that began circulating just before Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017. Unfortunately Yuquiyu was not very successful that time.
When the Spanish arrived on the island, they gave the hurricanes the names of saints, as if to say they were the scourge of a vengeful God. The first recorded hurricane was christened San Roque in 1508 by Juan Ponce de Leon, the man who claimed the island for Spain, and became its first governor. There followed many others: Santa Ana, San Bartholomé, San Calixto - also called the Great Hurricane of 1780, which had winds of up to 200 miles per hour, and killed 20,000 people. Today, there are still people who make reference to San Felipe in 1927, the most destructive hurricane up to that point, and San Ciprian in 1932, one of the strongest storms ever to hit the island, and the last to be named after a saint.
From that point on, the storms have more prosaic names: Betsy, Arthur, Hortense, Bertha.
I moved to Puerto Rico in 1992. The first storms I remember, that called attention to themselves, were Luis and Marilyn in 1995. In 1996, I was living in an apartment with a zinc roof when we heard Hortense was on the way. I wasn’t worried, since it was due to pass to the south of the island, sometime during the night. That is until the next morning, when I heard my neighbors banging on the door, asking if I was alright. I opened the bedroom door and saw that there was no roof in the living room. In 1998, Georges made landfall, the first hurricane to do so since Hugo in 1989, and caused serious damage. It was then that I first saw the blue roofs that began to appear everywhere, tarpaulins handed out by FEMA stretched over the tops of houses, when they had lost part, or all, of their roofs. They were a part of the landscape for a long, long time. We and a lot of other people lost water, electricity and phone service, and didn’t get them back for many months. I had a landline at the time. It was then that many people, including myself, first got cellphones, and that Puerto Rico quickly became one of the places with the most cellphones per capita. There have been many more hurricanes, some more fearsome than others, leading up to those that have left their mark in recent years.
Hurricanes are a fact of life.