The Dominican carnival represents the biggest festival in the country and the most far-reaching festivity to endorse popular culture through a sense of both freedom and identity. The Dominican carnival begins in February throughout the different cities of the country and concludes in Santo Domingo where the representatives of each town participate in the parade.
Every Sunday in February, the townspeople gather in the streets, either in their communities or nearby towns, to experience how all the groups from different sectors engage in one of the city’s oldest and most important traditions, each one wanting to be even more creative and fun.
ORIGIN & HISTORY
It dates back to 1520, during the Spanish colonial era. According to some historians, the first Dominican carnival ceremonies occurred on the visit of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, when locals disguised themselves as Moors and Christians.
From 1822 to 1844, this tradition of masquerading in costume during religious festivities ceased to exist due to the Haitian occupation. However, it returned as soon as the country gained its independence on February 27, 1844. The costumes were no longer associated with religious celebrations and evolved into carnivals, conducted three days before Ash Wednesday. The month of February was eventually designated as the month of the Dominican carnival.
If you want to fully comprehend and enjoy the Dominican carnival, you should familiarize yourself with its main figures and their significance in Dominican folklore.
- The Diablo Cojuelo is the main character. It wears a colorful costume with small mirrors, rattles, ribbons, and cowbells, as a parody of the medieval Spanish knights. A mask with long horns covers the devil’s face, while he carries a sack made from the dried and cured inflamed bladder of a cow, he goes along the parade handing out a smack on the backside to distracted bystanders.
- Roba La Gallina is a man in a flamboyant costume, complete with exaggerated breasts and buttocks, who also holds a large purse. During the parades he walks with an umbrella, standing in the “colmados” demanding his young chickens, the youngsters of the village, to follow him through the parade.
- The Lechones are the main character of the Santiago carnival, and they are a sort of “diablo cojuelo” (a kind of limping devil). Distinguishable by their mask, which resembles the face of a pig, with a long snout and large horns, and their elaborate costumes, encrusted with bells and bowls. Their role is to maintain order in the streets during the festivities, which they attempt to do by twirling their whip in the air.
- The Taimáscaros is the main character of Puerto Plata. A version of the diablo cojuelo, they blend three cultural influences into their costumes: a mask portraying the Taino gods, blouses, and coats representing the Spanish heritage, and scarves symbolizing African deities.
- Guloyas are from San Pedro de Macorís whose eye-catching beaded costumes and tall, feathery hats are simply impossible to miss. They represent Afro-descendants from the neighboring English-speaking Caribbean islands who moved to the Dominican Republic during the 20th century to work in the sugar industry. Their distinctive African-influenced music and dance were proclaimed a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005.
- The Pintaos de Barahona perform with their bodies elaborately painted in various color schemes, covering them from head to toe, with just a piece of cloth covering their nudity. They embody the maroon slaves who took refuge in the mountains of southwest Bahoruco in the 16th century.
- The Tiznaos, also known as Los Africanos, are characters whose faces and bodies are painted with charcoal or burnt car oil. They portray African slaves and dance in the streets.
- The Alí Babá is an oriental-themed group, well known for their choreographed dances and drumming.
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