The name El Yunque is believed to be a Spanish derivation of the Taíno Indian name for the area, Yuke, which means “white earth” because the mountaintops are often covered in clouds. The Taíno believed that El Yunque was a sacred place and home to their gods, the most powerful and revered being Yuquiyu, who protected mortals from evil. The Taíno visited the forest to cut trees, vines, and palm fronds to make canoes, baskets, and roofing thatch, and to gather its abundance of fruits, roots, and medicinal plants. It is also believed that religious ceremonies and rituals were held here. Many petroglyphs can be found carved into rocks and boulders throughout the forest.
Upon the arrival of Spanish settlers, attempts were made to exploit the forest’s resources. The timber industry initiated forestation, and copper mining was pursued. But in 1876, King Alfonso XII of Spain decreed 12,300 acres of the forest a preserve, making it one of the oldest forest reserves in the western hemisphere. In 1903, after the United States gained control of Puerto Rico following the Spanish-American War, President Theodore Roosevelt designated the area the Luquillo Forest Reserve, and it was eventually expanded to its current size. Further securing its safekeeping, the United Nations designated it as part of the international network of biosphere reserves in 1976.
© Suzanne Van Atten from Moon Puerto Rico, 2nd Edition