Carnival It’s carnival season!
February’s here and with it, the coveted Sundays that wrap surround the magic of the Dominican Carnival. Thousands of people throughout the country go walking around amongst ‘vejigazos’ (slams of balloon pouches made out of cow’s bladder), hobble devils (called ‘Diablos Cojuelos’), merengues and bachatas.
Trajes de luces, máscaras que asustan y una decena más de pintorescos personajes invaden las calles de las principales ciudades, reviviendo una de las tradiciones que más se disfrutan en el país. Esta es una costumbre que ha perdurado por cientos de años, pues se realiza desde tiempos de la colonia, en víspera de la cuaresma cristiana cuando los habitantes de Santo Domingo se disfrazaban como un remedo de las carnestolendas europeas; pero creció con las gestas republicanas del 27 febrero de 1844 y del 16 agosto de 1865, desde entonces nuestros carnavales se celebran en estas fechas.
Costumes, scary masks and dozens of picturesque characters fill the streets of the main cities, giving life to one of the most enjoyed traditions in the country. A tradition lasting hundreds of years, this custom has been performed since colonial times on the eve of Christian lent, when the inhabitants of Santo Domingo disguised with imitations of European masks; but the celebration grew bigger with the achievements of February 27, 1844 and August 16, 1865, and our carnivals are held on these dates ever since. As in other countries, all characters march amongst the crowds of people infected with the joy of these holidays. For example, the town of La Vega celebrates one of the most popular carnivals in the country, not just for the colorful masks but because they’ve also organized and added tents and viewing boxes along the streets to accommodate visitors.
These characters can vary from town to town. The most popular include:
The Diablo Cojuelo (the hobble devil): a mischievous and playful demon that topped even the devil’s patience and was thrown into earth, hurting his leg on the fall, and left hobbling (lame = cojo or ‘cojuelo’).
Over the years, each location adapted the famous character to its own version. Some of the derivations include The Cachúas (in Cabral); Lechones (which may translate as “piglets”, in Santiago); the Macaraos (which may translate as “the masked ones”, in Bonao, Salcedo and Santiago, in more generic terms); The Toros (Bulls, in Montecristi). There are also modern variants such as the Catarrones (in San Francisco de Macorís and the only smiling devil); the Taimácaros (in Puerto Plata); Judas (in Navarrete) and the Avechisas (in Mao).
Roba-La-Gallina: A man disguised as a woman, typically with exaggerated large breasts and abundant bottoms, goes thru the bodegas and other commercial establishments asking for its chicks, which are no more than the youngsters of town, that follow in a jubilant procession.
Califé: A poetic nitpicker that goes around playfully criticizing all characters in the political, social and cultural scenes; this figure is dressed in a black tailcoat, white shirt and a large black hat and is usually followed by a choir of supporters.
Platanuses: Costumes made of leaves from the banana trees, an almost unchanged derivate from the costumes used in tribal festivities in West Africa. Another version of these is the “Papeluses”, which use strips of paper and plastic bags instead of banana tree leaves.
Los Africanos (The Africans): Characters painted black, using coal and burnt car oil, these are groups of men and women going around imitating black slaves, dancing in the streets as part of the carnival.