top of page

El Rosario: Partial View of Puerto Rican Folklore

introduction by Nestor Murray Irizarry
followed by the book, and then by three video lectures discussing the book

El Rosario: Partial View of the Folklore of Puerto Rico by Pedro Escabi and Elsa Escabi ,

Center for Social Research, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus. [Published online in 2020 by the Center for Folkloric Research of Puerto Rico, Inc. as delivered to our institution by Elsa Escabi Agostini]


This publication is part of a comprehensive study and systematic investigation of our  folklore, which has rarely been attempted in Puerto Rico. It is only compared with the work carried out between 1914 and 1915 on the Island by the American anthropologist John Alden Mason, which was edited by Aurelio M. Espinosa.


The Study in question was carried out with scientific rigor. The planning, the training of the personnel, the selected bibliography, the questionnaire, the sample used, the classification of the materials, the recordings of the open interviews and the publications also represent a good model-guide to carry out a similar work.  There is no doubt that both investigative works aspired to demonstrate the  richness of the folklore of our land. In honor of this special effort, both by the Escabí brothers and by Mason and Espinosa, we must emulate with dignity and pride the force that inspires us to continue fighting to rescue our Puerto Rican cultural heritage. The conclusions reached by Pedro C. Escabí Agostini in El Rosario are very curious, if not revealing. It points out that:


The first analysis showed that our rosary music is aboriginal in character  American” and that “[…] among the 27 Modalities found, 2 and 22 are  modalities known as Andalusian Arabic. We know that these are of origin  African. The 28, 29, 30, 31 are the major scale and the three minor scales that are  attributed in our Western culture to Europe […]''  'We can anticipate that the Joys Sing to the Souls, which are used to doing  after the Rosary, whether it is prayed or sung, we have collected it only in  communities whose population is eminently black [...] In relation to the patterns  rhythmic, I am not willing to compromise, on whether they are white, black  or indigenous to America. We know that the aborigines of America had drums with  limbs lined with leather, just like the Africans.


Escabí clarifies that he was not trying to play down African cultural values and that he was reluctant to believe that any type of rhythm found in America had African influence. On the other hand, his research concluded that "the Christian symbology of the Holy Cross is a vegetative symbol of the Virgin Mary

To read the book, drag the image up or down, or press the little arrows to turn the page. 

Three prominent professors react to the work

dr. Roberto Fernández Valledor

Dra. Noraliz Ruiz

Dr. Emanuel Dufrasne

Some notes about the book 

Partial view of the folklore of Puerto Rico: the Rosario

(by Pedro Escabí Agostini, p. 188-218)

by Emanuel Dufrasne González, ethnomusicologist


I have had many opportunities to listen and to participate in the fiestas or Rosaries to the Holy Cross on countless occasions. I have been to Holy Cross parties in Ponce, Carolina, Río Piedras, Guayama and Santurce. I have listened to recordings of those events in New York. I was able to listen to recordings made by the ethnomusicologist Luis Manuel Álvarez in San Juan, Río Grande and Río Piedras.  

     I have also been able to participate in Rosarios a Santiago Apóstol in Loíza. In the Torrecilla Baja neighborhood of Loíza, they sang to me fragments of the Santa Cruz festival as it was done before in that area, before the adoption of the so-called Ponce style of said tradition.  I have also witnessed carols of promesas in the Quebrada Negrito neighborhood in Trujillo Alto. My experiences have been different from those of Pedro and Elsa Escabí because I worked in different places and at different times. They worked in a time before mine.  

     The extensive and meticulous treatise on the Rosary in Puerto Rico by the late research professor Pedro Escabí Agostini and his sister Elsa is a comprehensive study that explores the psyche of prehistoric human beings. It includes an in-depth exercise in philosophical anthropology as it applied to homo sapiens since the Palaeolithic. It explores the knowledge accumulated by observation and experience on the part of those ancients. They delve into themes of mythical or symbolic-metaphorical wisdom while exploring aspects of the psychology of our species. It discusses mythical, or pre-scientific thought, and its gradual passage towards scientific thought (or scientificity). They associate the lunar calendar and the cycles of the Earth with women's menstruation and ovulation. They work with the ancient calendars of past civilizations to highlight the relationship between the lunar calendar and the Rosary, which is itself an abacus. "Keeping the accounts" of the Rosary is also following the accounts of the abacus to specify the lunar calculation, Escabí affirmed.

     Within that same discussion in the wonderful field of philosophical anthropology, Professor Escabí discussed the different Paleolithic Venuses, the different representations of voluptuous women or goddesses, or perhaps pregnant women. Possible representations of the earth-mother-goddess, women and fertility. According to the document discussed, this is related to women and their reproductive calendar, the menstruation cycle. It is a cycle like the lunar and solar cycles. In short, they are all cycles that influence Nature or are Nature itself, the nature of women, of the Planet and of the heavens. The idea that devotion to the Virgin Mary is a product of the development and evolution of the cult of the earth-mother-goddess is provocative. Professor Escabí discussed this topic in his treatise. In addition, he presents the idea that the cult of Jesus Christ is a transformed form of the solar cult. He discussed these issues as part of the evolution or transformation of thought in the West.

     Professor Escabí wrote about the important matter of keeping accounts. The paragraph in which he explains the relationship between the lunar calendar and the Rosary is very interesting. Escabí wrote:  

     When the people call the process of running the ritual "keeping the accounts" they are making a translation in the collective memory of the calendrical scientific act, although the collective mind of the present does not see a direct relationship between the ritual instrument and the calendrical one.

     Escabí discussed the parts of the Rosary and its variants. He described the different types of Rosaries and how they are celebrated or presented. He commented on the promises and their fulfillment. He listed the activities necessary to perform the Rosary as well as their importance in the past.  The Rosary has five sections of ten beads for a total of fifty beads that represent the Hail Mary prayer. Each section of these is a house. There is an account between each house to add four accounts that anticipate a different house. Those four beads, Escabí describes us, is a pater referring to the prayer Pater Noster or Our Father. There is another account for a  Additional Pater Noster. Three Hail Marys are also added to the rosary for a total of fifty-three. One bead represents the prayer called the Hail. Then the Litany is sung or prayed. This prayer contains nine prayers to the Holy Trinity, forty-seven praises to the Holy Mary and three prayers to the Lamb of God. Escabí broke down the Rosary in a profound way and with the most detailed and correct analysis from the theological point of view and from the popular approach.  Professor Escabí explained that the promise had to be paid on the eve of the saint's day for the time promised. If the three rosaries were made with their fifteen mysteries (a fifteen) that ritual lasted all night and until after 6:00 in the morning of the next day. They are five joyful mysteries, five sorrowful mysteries and five glorious mysteries. Between rosary and rosary sixes and bonuses are sung to the divine or religious theme. Christmas carols are also sung to the saint of particular devotion.  

     This study is very complete. Escabí even described the preparation process to be able to fulfill the promise or the devotion. The teacher explained that first they looked for four, guitar, guiro and singer musicians. As a second step, gifts were prepared for those who came to participate in the promise. The third step was to get the rezador and the first and second choirs. The fourth step is  prepare the altar. Escabí also explained that when the Rosary is for a saint other than the Virgin Mary, the ten Hail Marys are replaced by a prayer to the saint of that devotion. That sentence is called the word. He listed different prayers incorporated into the rosaries for other saints: the Alabado, The heavenly voice has spoken, We are going to give you thanks, and Aplaca, my God, your anger, as well as indeterminate Our Fathers and Hail Marys.  

    There is much more that can be said and written about the text that we have summarized. I met and talked to both of them. I had the honor of advising Elsa Escabí on the musical terms used on pages 358 to 391. The Escabí Agostini brothers did not neglect any aspect of the study of the rosary in Puerto Rico. They included the texts prayed or sung. This extensive treatise in turn requires much study and reflection. This study offers the opportunity to place much of the information collected by the Escabí Agostini brothers in a broader world of popular Catholicism and its various manifestations in the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America.  It is the product of a thorough, deep and comprehensive investigation. It is an invaluable document about a very important Puerto Rican tradition. It is also a major scholarly document on a unique aspect of Latin American music.  There is no doubt that these practices persist today just as they were described. They cited a copla de seguidilla that I consider very interesting:

   to go up to heaven


   a big ladder

   and another little one.


In the aforementioned treatise, its authors analyzed this copla within the biblical and Rosario context, even though it is included in the Veracruz and secular son entitled La bamba. In a certain way, this important treatise is a large staircase and a small one that serves as a link to other times, remote and near. The book is a bridge between the time of hard work of the Escabí Agostini brothers and those of researchers of later and current times.

     May both Elsa and Pedro rest in peace.

bottom of page