A Great Teacher Of Our Culture
By: Manuel Centeno Diaz
On November 19 as you passed by the busy streets of Mayaguez. You might have heard the beautiful sounds of beating drums. That sound came from the Naza, a cultural sports bar, where a music festival was held to honor our culture and tradition. The festivities also awarded and recognized work of Ramon Alers (Don Papo). He is the music director of the Mayaguez Bomba School. Where the typical music of Puerto Rico is taught to future Bomba signers and players of our culture.
Don Papo was born on May 4, 1934 in the city of Mayaguez. He is not only a bomba player, but a teacher, and a director. He also directs a bomba group called Yaguembe which he began in 2008 and that has also been recognized for their representation of our culture. In the “Centro de Estudios Avanzados y del Caribe” in the city of San Juan was where the group was given the prize for the best typical group representation, with only three months of been formed.
Don Papo has been playing bomba for over 60 years. He learned bomba from his grandfather who taught him how to play the instruments that are played in bomba and also how to make them. Such as drums, maracas, and guiros.
Don Papo has been honored with many awards from mayors and different cultural organizations for his long representation and work with our culture and our music. One of the most important awards was given to him by Tata Cepeda, director of Puerto Rico’s first bomba school and another award from Modesto Cepeda, director of Puerto Rico’s second school.
Don Papo is director of the third bomba school in Puerto Rico which is located in the city of Mayaguez. He is considered to be the patriarch of bomba music in the Mayaguez area. For having taught many of the bomba groups in Mayaguez. As is tradition in his family, he has taught his sons and grandchildren to appreciate their culture.
That is why most members of the bomba group Yaguembe are family. As a means of keeping the tradition going in the family as well as in the rest of the Mayaguez. Don Papo keeps our culture alive by teaching our future generations about it and how it can be saved.
Don Papo and students from the Bomba School go to different schools and universities showing the students our typical dancing and music to them so it is not forgotten. Don Papo has also had the great honor to have played for some international singers such as Jose Jose and Wilkins.
He has also played in the concerts of Wilkin when the artist did his last concert before retired in the “Palacio de Deportes” in Mayaguez. Don Papo along with his bomba group “Yaguembe” have also been on international television shows such as “Despierta America” which is a Hispanic show on the Univision television station.
When you ask Don Papo why he plays bomba and why he works so hard to preserve it he will tell you this, “ I play so that our culture does not disappear, so that the future generation of Puerto Rico will never forget our African heritage as well as our Taino and Spanish culture which makes us what we are today; Puerto Rican.”
One of the reasons for why he says that is in 1951 almost everyone in the Mayaguez area had forgotten the typical music and dances of our people. Many of the old teachers that had taught the music and dancing had passed away and there is was no way of getting it back. That is why he continues vigorously playing our music and teaching our dances.
When you ask his wife? Dona Caimita, which has been married to Don Papo for 52 years she says “ I am proud of having Papo as my husband because I love the way he has kept our culture alive as well as how he teaches the people of the country to appreciate it and not forget it.”
Don Papo to left being awarded for his work.
Don Papos Bomba gruop Yaguembe
Don Papo to the far right his son in the middle and grandson
to the far left.