In the town of Loíza traditional activities honoring St. James the Apostle manifest a mix of indigenous, African and Hispanic cultures, but the African elements are the most notable. . . . . . {submitted to the Puerto Rican Senate by Gov. Romero Barcelo} . . . read more . . St. James, not unlike Changó , a warrior god in the African Yoruba tradition, carried an iron sword in his hand. The holy warrior became popular with all three cultures -- the native, the African, the Hispanic and the celebration's symbolism and traditions became mixed.

The Catholic Church to this day, celebrates the miraculous appearance of St. James the Apostle, to the Catholic Armies of Spain in the 11th Century. St. James lead the Spanish Catholic Militia to triumphantly defeat the infidel Mohammedans (Moors).

Christian legends tell that St. James the Elder, one of the twelve apostles of Christ, had traveled widely on the Iberian Peninsula, bringing Christianity to the Celtic peoples. The Virgin Mary appeared to James on the bank of the Ebro River at Caesaraugusta, while he was preaching the Gospel in Spain. She appeared upon a pillar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, and that pillar is conserved and venerated within the present Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, in Zaragoza, Spain. Following that apparition, St James returned to Judea, where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in the year 44 AD. His remains were brought back to Spain and became a great place of pilgrimage in Santiago de Compostela. He is the patron saint of Spain.

Each, July, a 10 day festival is held to commemorate the victory of St James, the patron saint. There are two major historical families who have carried on the tradition. They are the Ayala and Cepeda families.

During the festival the 'Vejigantes' dress up in costumes and use the masks ( made of coconuts) that are still made and sold in Loiza. (The papier maiche vijigantes masks are from Ponce).

Raul Ayala is a member of the musical group Los Hermanos Ayala and a master artisan of vejigantes. Visit the store in Loiza where he sells his vejigantes and other cultural artifacts to both tourists and Puerto Rican clients. .

"The Vejigante masks are traditionally made for the Fiestas de Santiago Apóstol (Saint James Festivals). The Vejigante symbolizes the Moslems that Saint James fought with in Spain. The Vejigantes costume consists of a large overall with wide sleeves that once you open your arms, simulates wings. The fabric used is of bright colors.

The most important part of the costume is the mask, which is made of coconut shell. Two cuts are made to the coconut fruit, the hard nut at its center is taken out with some of the interior cortex. This will leave a big enough space for the human face to fit it. According to the individual shape of each coconut a grotesque face will be carved with prominent nose and lips. The mouth has teeth made out of bamboo and a tongue made out of coconut shell. The Vejigante's mask is the most prominent craft piece of art in Loíza, which has a long history of traditional Afro-Puerto Rican art." . . Raul Ayala.

Traditional folk dance of the Puerto Rican Bomba and the Plena:

History of dance website

The Puerto Rican artist most identified with the Afro-Caribbean cultural trends of his home town Loiza, Samuel Lind, has produced a great number of works celebrating dance, carnival and other aspects of Puerto Rican experience. Lind emphasizes the African dimensions of jibaro life. He also paints the mangroves and coconut palm forests, so much a part of coastal Puerto Rico.

Samuel Lind, and his wife are working on establishing a local museum and library for children in Loiza. Lind's work is on display in his studio and in museums and homes throughout Puerto Rico.