Each weekend during the month of February as well as on Independence Day (the 27th), Dominicans fill the streets celebrating their culture and autonomy in an outpour of art, music, costumes and food. The Dominican Republic is under the spell of Carnival and just about every decent-sized city on the island has some sort of celebration going on. The only way to avoid the festivities is by hiding in an all-inclusive resort. more...
Each weekend during the month of February as well as on Independence Day (the 27th), Dominicans fill the streets celebrating their culture and autonomy in an outpour of art, music, costumes and food. The Dominican Republic is under the spell of Carnival and just about every decent-sized city on the island has some sort of celebration going on. The only way to avoid the festivities is by hiding in an all-inclusive resort.
The most famous carnival celebration is held in La Vega, the Dominican Republic, normally a quiet town with a population of around 60,000, located near Santiago and within day-trip distance of the north coast and the capital, Santo Domingo. Carnival de La Vega is considered the oldest and most spectacular festival among Dominicans of all generations.
The first written references to the La Vega “carnival” date back to 1520, when Fray Bartolome de las Casas visited the island. At that time, the inhabitants of La Vega, dressed up as Moors and Christians, organized some festivities that evolved into the current day festival. Weekend nights are spent partying in the streets aided by over-the-top sound systems. Official parties feature big time Dominican artists while countless improvised parties take place at rough-around-the-edges spots like outdoor bars or—believe it or not—gas stations.
One of the most popular and common Carnival characters you come across is the Diablo Cojuelo (limping devil). Legend goes that this demon was deported to earth because he was such a prankster. He landed awkwardly on his leg and fell, causing him to limp
A figure known as “La Muerte” (the death) wears the classical skull and bones attire and holds a scythe. Another frequently seen character is a transvestite known as “Roba de Gallina” He generally asks store owners for contributions such as money or candy and then shares the items given to him with children that follow him around. There is usually also a group of people dressed as Taino Indians that stage historic dramas and a group dressed as Africans or “Tiznaos”. The Tiznaos blacken their bodies with soot from charcoal and then rub burned engine oil on their skin to give it a glossy shine. Some other characters include the chicken thief (Robalagallinas), and the Bear Man (Nicolas Den Den), and Los Indios (The Indians). The devil, however, is always the central figure in the festivities.
Teams spend months preparing the elaborate Carnival costumes for the “Diablos Cojuelos” and other characters. Brilliant reds are the dominant colors in most garments, bright blue, and electric gray with green in others. Another integral part of the La Vega festivities is the use of very elaborate and particularly frightening masks. They generally have bulging, bloodshot eyes, rows of fangs as teeth and protruding horns and are decorated with rhinestones and feathers.
Originally the masks were worn to come in contact with or to represent the supernatural spirits that were to believe to influence the lives of the La Vega population or to play out the victory of good over evil. This kind of spiritual use of masks in the Dominican Republic is similar to that of various ancient African and Native American traditions.
Watch out for the famous “vejigas”—dried cow bladders or their synthetic equivalent—which the devils use as whips as they roam the streets every Sunday looking for victims. Vejigazos,” the Spanish word for the whiplashes, are generally applied to the buttocks and sting badly, though rarely cause anything but bruises. To avoid being whipped there is one simple rule you need to remember: stay on the sidewalk. The La Vega carnival is considered to be the fourth most important Carnival celebration in the world behind the Carnivals of Rio de Janeiro, Trinidad & Tobago and Santa Cruz de Tenerife an makes for an unforgettable vacation experience.