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Carnival

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Carnival is the most significant, lively, colorful and joyous expression of Dominican popular culture you will find. In February, it seems that every Dominican on the island plays a role in it.

 

The origins of Carnival in the Dominican Republic date back to 1520, during the colonial period. Some researchers say the first Carnival events took place as a celebration of a visit by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, when its inhabitants disguised themselves as Moors and Christians.

 

It is believed that these celebrations were linked to certain religious festivals, which were later incorporated into the celebration. In 1795, Carnivals took place on the saint's day festivities in honor of James the Apostle, Corpus Christi and Carnival season in the city of Santiago.

 

Carnival is filled with with bright costumes that you won't find anywhere else. However, it wasn't always this way. Between 1822 and 1844, costumes disappeared almost completely because of the Haitian occupation. However, these costumes returned after the country achieved its independence on February 27, 1844 and were no longer associated with church celebrations. They evolved into actual Carnivals, celebrated during the three days prior to Ash Wednesday and established the month of February as Carnival month in the Dominican Republic.

 

Each Sunday during the month of February, different cities hold their own parades. The La Vega Carnival is the most popular and is definitely something that you don't want to miss. The grand national Carnival parade takes place along the city of Santo Domingo's seaside promenade, and is usually held on the last Sunday in February or the first Sunday in March.

 

Many people participate in the parades, and this is a great way to get to know a region of the country. Each region holds its own celebration, highlighting the culture and history of the groups in that area. They become organized into dozens of floats and groups, creating a striking collective event which closes the entire Carnival celebration. The Santo Domingo carnival also includes recognition and awards for the best costumes and groups in different categories from the Ministries of Culture and Tourism.

 

Each year the country also has a private Carnival celebration. The famous traditional Carnival Gala is held at the La Fiesta theatre at the Jaragua Hotel, and puts on a lively show with incredible dancing, art, and music.

 

One of the best things about Carnival is how eclectic its influences are. Watching the parades, you can see clear influences from spanish culture as well as other European and African countries. Lots of people expresses these cultures by dressing up as costumed characters, each dancing with unique music and dancing skirts.

 

"El diablo cojuelo" is Carnival's most famous character. He wears a colorful caped suit with with little mirrors, rattles, ribbons, and cowbells meant to parody pretentious medieval gentlemen. The devil's face is covered by a mask with large horns. The people call him "diablo cojuelo," not because it is a devil cult; instead, to mock the devil, who goes by different names in each province's Carnival.

 

"Roba la gallina" or "The Chicken Thief," is a costumed character who has a large chest and carries an open parasol. He goes to the "colmados" (small cheap retail shops) begging for his chicks, the town's children, who follow along with him in a happy march.

 

"Se me muere Rebeca" or literally "Rebecca is dying," is a character representing a desperate mother who goes shouting along the parade route that her daughter is gravely ill. She begs for sweets for her daughter, which she then distributes among the children.

 

"Califé" is a poet who playfully criticizes personalities from the political, social and cultural scene in rhyme. He is followed by a chorus and is dressed in a black tuxedo.

 

"La muerte en Jeep" or "Death in a Jeep" is represented by a character dressed as a masked skeleton. He escorts the diablos cojuelos.

 

"Los indios" or "The Indians," is a group that portrays the island's first inhabitants, wearing body paint, feathers, bows and lances.

 

"Los africanos o los tiznaos" or "The Africans or The Blackfaces" are characters whose bodies are painted black with coal and burned car oil. They portray African slaves who were brought to the country years ago, and dance along the streets.

 

"Los Alí Babá" or "The Ali Babas" is a group with Oriental themes, who perform synchronized dances in the streets.

 

The costumes in Carnival are very professional, and require the dedication of some of the best Dominican artists. There is a stunning variety of costumes in the parades. Many of the costumes have spiritual backgrounds, and feature capes with religious symbols. Some have rattles hanging from their capes to clear out negative energy, while others have little dolls on their chest representing that new life must flourish.The Carnival masks originally came from Spain. They were then adapted by Africans, who created the design you see today. The masks are made by "carreteros" out of paper mache, feathers, painted gourds, plantain leaves, jute, and lots of discarded materials.

 

In addition to their costumes and masks, the diablos cojuelos also set themselves apart by their "vejiga" (an inflated "bladder") that they carry around the city like a whip. It is used to strike the participants as a symbol of purification, in order to eliminate the negative forces so that positive energies can flow into the person through the blows from the vejigas or whips.

 

The vejigas are handmade through a process using synthetic materials and vegetable fibers.

 

Carnavales dominicanos más populares:


El carnaval de La Vega is one of the country's oldest most renowned carnivals. It is also the most important cultural event in the province, with the major groups "The Broncos" and "The Fieras," or "Savage Beasts" participating.

 

El carnaval de Santiago is another important Carnival. This one focuses on the class differences in the city, particularly around the La Joya and Los Pepines neighborhoods where the Lechones and Pepines originated.

 

El carnaval de Bonao is this town's most important celebration, and is a creative parade that has its own identity. The main groups of performers are The Charamicos and The Caraduras.

 

El carnaval de San Pedro de Macorís is known for the Guloyas, descendants of the English-speaking black people who immigrated to this city, and who perform a very striking dance set to music.

 

El carnaval de Azua is one of the oldest celebrations, incorporating native motifs with other fantasy characters. In addition, they also combine the festival with the celebration of the Battle of March 19th, so here you get to experience two celebrations at once.

 

El carnaval de Cabral: is known for the beautiful horned masks of the Cachúas. They leave their masks unpainted but with a colorful head of hair.

 

Other important cultural events are the Carnivals of San Cristóbal, Cotuí, Montecristi, Elías Piña, Puerto Plata, Salcedo and the San Juan de la Maguana Carnival.