One of the characteristics that drew the attention of the newly arrived colonists to the Caribbean were the aspects related to the subsistence and religion of the aborigines. Unlike more developed regions of Mesoamerica or Peru, local villagers practised only very incipient forms of agriculture, while most of their diet was obtained through fruit collection and fishing. This gave to the newcomers the illusion of having found a kind of "earthly paradise”, a timeless golden age that referred to ideals of the late Middle Ages and the European Renaissance. On the other hand, the rich and varied religious systems of these natives were the objects of descriptions and idealisations by chroniclers of the time such as Las Casas, Oviedo or Fray Ramón Pané.
The vast region of the Spanish American domains, which started its formation with the colonisation of the West Indies, offers countless examples of a great display of cultural syncretism. The interaction of the Andalusian variant of the Castilian language — which will predominate in America and which had previously taken root in the Canary Islands — with the local languages will produce immediate results in the XVI century, and new mixtures during the XVII century. Loans, adoptions and adaptations of taíno expressions or caribe-arahuacas languages testify to this semantic integration, which was witnessed by the first chroniclers of the New World. Later on, this fusion would have worked in the same way between the Spanish of the colonists and the languages of Mesoamerica and Peru. Upon their arrival in the new lands, the conquistadores found a world to their meanings "fabulous", rich in new animals, plants, objects, rituals and customs that they originally knew only with their own native names. It is in the Caribbean Islands where the hybrid corpus of this terminology began to be absorbed into the Spanish language, to eventually arrive to the continent — as colonisation proceeded towards north and south — completely integrated, as if this new “Hispanic-American” language had always existed. Words such as maís, canoa, sabana, hamaca, huracán, jaguar or caimán, unknown in Europe, were quickly imported into the lexicon of the Spanish language spoken worldwide.
A second stage of syncretism in America came with the continental expansion of the impressive European conquering machinery, initiated by the crown of the Catholic Monarchs and followed a posteriori by the arrival of Portuguese, French, English and Italian in the early XVIII century. This syncretism will already be related to the assimilation of the so many and varied local cultures to the European culture that, from the viceroyalties of New Spain to the viceroyalty of Peru, interacted among them. It will no longer be the adoption of mere words into the Spanish language or the discovery and integration of new customs into the daily life of the colony, but rather the creation of new cultures in the broad sense of the term, a collective where new and varied elements are conjugated: religious,2 linguistic,3 customs,4 artistic,5 political.6
At this stage, a new wave of European immigration from England, Holland, Portugal and France greatly influenced cultural expansion across the continent, including some variants of African roots such as Afro-Andalusian or Afro-Portuguese, already present in the Iberian Peninsula before the American conquest. The African presence, now permanent, with the intense trade and slave trade, significantly marked the "alloy" of those peoples who, coming from different latitudes and added to the territorial realities, were defining a novel modus operandi. This took the form of new expressions and ways of communicating, with the invention of the "creole" languages, with influences from all languages in action, with new artistic genres and new interpretations of religions, especially the adaptation of local (and foreign) beliefs to the prevailing Catholicism. In this sense, the American pidgin, derived from Spanish, was formed with Spanish expressions added to words imported from Portuguese, English, Dutch, French and especially from the African Bantu. As these languages have been perpetuated until our days, we can deduce that the phonetics of them have been the result of the summation of existing phonemes in each one of them, adapted and modified to give a characteristic and singular result.
Music, on the other hand, was also modelled in the melting pot where local and European cultures merged. The African presence was decisive in the creation of new repertoires in which negrillas, guineos, puertorricos or fandangos have left testimony of a very rich writing in polyrhythms7 that, in a round trip movement between Europe and America, ended up influencing the music that was composed in the Iberian Peninsula. Composers such as Juan Gutierrez de Padilla, Antonio de Salazar, Gaspar Fernández in the viceroyalty of New Spain or Juan de Araujo in the viceroyalty of Peru, were major exponents of this type of genre.
Something is indisputable in the history of America, and is its “before” and “after” 1492, the year of the arrival of the Spaniards to the Caribbean. Of the interactions of “before”, when these lands were the reign of local tribes, we have very few references. Of the “after”, the land of interaction, integration and development under the Spanish crown, the cultural syncretism was one of the main protagonists. From 1492 until today it is a process that still seems to have not finished.
2 Rites, adorations, beliefs.
3 True new dialectal languages.
4 Variation in diet, behaviour, tastes, etc.
5 Production of local music and dance rituals assimilated to the conception of European art.
6 Interaction of concepts on forms of government.
7 Typical superposition of ternary times with binaries.