Millenia have passed since this story began being told among my people about a national symbol known to my ancestors as the Coquí. It’s a beautiful tale with requisite sadness balanced by remembrance. This particular story comes from the tradition of Los Indios Taínos that once, along with the fierce Caribes and the Arawaks, inhabited what you know now as Puerto Rico but was then Boriquen or Boriken.
There was a young, handsome son of a Taíno chief or Cacíque. This spirited lad was named Coqui and grew to be the kind of tribesman that was admired by those that knew him… and his song. His song was ever-present when he walked or worked about the village ringed by the familiar bohíos wherein the Tainos lived, slept, ate, and died. It was such a beautiful song that the Tainos would always know when Coquí was near and it put a smile on their faces to know he was in their presence.
So it came to pass the he caught the attention of a goddess who had watched him for many years. If a human has the ability of attracting the attention of a supreme being, Coquí did so, albeit unintentionally. He was just being who he was. Perhaps it was that honest quality that drove the goddess to assume human form in order to meet him as he emerged from the forest on one of his many walks.
As she stood silently, he met her eye and was instantly stunned by a beauty he had never known or understood to even be possible. She greeted him in their language and asked if she could walk with him. He couldn’t do anything other than assent to this strange, lovely woman. She, after a while, asked him if he would sing for her. Stunned and pleased at the request, he opened his mouth to sing. The members of the tribe could hear him in the distance remarking to each other that it seemed as though Coquí had a vocal spring to his step.
The goddess spent the entire night walking in the forest with Coquí who sang tirelessly until morning. It was as though they were making love but it was equally satisfying if not more so.
For every kind of beneficent deity there were the evil ones who felt as though their tributes had not been met and lusted for another kind of satisfaction. Such was the character of Juracán who would, when hungry and feeling under-appreciated, remind the inhabitants of Boriquen of his presence and need for attention. He would do so with winds of indescribable power and rain, rain, rain for hours or days. He would provide a gentle reminder, were he of such a mind. This time he was just angry.
He began to blow and the Taínos looked for shelter as their elders recommended after so many encounters, thinking of the rebuilding they would need to do… if they survived.
But where was Coquí?
Coquí was following his heart and risking safety, searching for the beautiful woman whom he had accompanied for that prior night, his love for her was so strong, not knowing she was a goddess capable of staying out of Juracan’s wrath, as even her kindness and loving spirit was no match for him at that very moment.
The power of Coquí’s voice calling for her was superseded by the howling of this massive wind and percussive pelting of speeding water drops. He looked for the goddess in vain until he reached the shoreline. Thus was Juracán able to claim a new soul to remind the Taínos of his need to be placated and into the sea he disappeared, apparently destined never to return to his people.
The beautiful goddess wept at the loss, as did the inhabitants of the village. For the last time, she assumed human form and went back into the forest and picked up sand from where she and Coquí had walked. She pulled leaves that they had brushed aside and dipped them all in a pool of the fresh water that had fallen from the sky. As she rubbed her hands together she created two small frogs who would live in the trees and stay out of sight. Then the true miracle happened.
The little frogs began to sing.
The song was simple but designed to put a smile on her face every time she would hear them for the frogs uttered the name of her human and now-immortal beloved: “Coquí!” The tribe was transfixed the first time they heard it but for eons after would be comforted as night fell every evening. The little frog lulled the entire island over the passing years with a song that once again, after the tribulations of visits from Juracán, can be heard.
It is a sound of comfort. It is sound that reminds the Puerto Ricans of today that we are survivors. The newer, concrete “bohios” can fall. New ones will be raised out of need and acquired self-sufficiency. When we feel defeated we know it is only temporary. When exhaustion threatens to overcome us, we hear the sound of Coqui lulling us to rest and later rise and be survivors.
Let us survive in order to live.