Category Archives: Traditions

Offering of the Bulls

The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana / Offering of the Bulls

In the town of San Juan Bautista de Bayaguana, known simply as Bayaguana, in the Dominican Republic is held an exceptionally unique festival. The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana, also known as the Festival of the Bulls, the traditional cattle festival in Bayaguana. The festivities start on December 28 with the arrival of the bulls and end on January 1st with the offering of the bulls.

The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana / Offering of the Bulls - Bringing the bulls to town.
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana / Offering of the Bulls – Bringing the bulls to town.

This tradition started when, during a long drought, the cattle were dying. The crops and fruit were drying up. So, in desperation, the people of the area offered a bull to Santo Cristo in exchange for rains to fall. After a few days passed the rains did return as usual and all was saved. Thus the tradition began.

The Festival El Santo Cristo Bayaguana Today

A few weeks before the festival the Commissioners of Santo Cristo de los Milagros go around the region collecting bulls. These are offerings from the believers as an expression of thanks for the favors bestowed on them that year and to signify their faith and devotion.

The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana / Offering of the Bulls - The Vaqueros - Cowboys and their horses are bringing the bulls to town.
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana / The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana / Offering of the Bulls – The Vaqueros – Cowboys and their horses are bringing the bulls to town.

At dawn on the 28 of December the horseback riders the Vaqueros, bull wranglers, Commissioners and the faithful enter the town square with their bulls in tow. Here is held a consecration ceremony displaying the solemnity of their faith.

This procession is not a silent one, just the opposite. It is led by the Banda Municipal de Música. There are songs, prayers, dancing, and even fireworks. All transpiring while the bulls are led to a coral in the center of town where the bulls are held for the 4-day festival. These bulls are penned, waiting for the 4th day, January 1st, when they will be sold or “offered”.

The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana - People singing and chanting Cantos de Toros.
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana – People singing and chanting Cantos de Toros.

The people gathered for the festival, including the people wanting to purchase these sacrificial bulls, are all in a joyful spirit. Sancocho is served and liquids imbibed such as rum, jengibre and coffee. The night is passed singing and chanting Cantos de Toros/ Songs of the Bulls and Salves. These songs are improvised verse and poetry sung a cappella. The singing is done in a round, with alternate soloists taking the lead while all the people gathered joining in like a choir. There is a real party spirit, much commotion and fireworks.

Come January 1st the people begin arriving from throughout the country to participate in the masses and offerings to Santo Christ. After eating the faithful gather at the altar and, in a very solemn ceremony, they ask for and are also thankful for, things and promises granted by the Santo Cristo for the past year and the year to come. This as a very inspirational and somber act.

The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana - The bulls are coming into town.
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana – The bulls are coming into town.

After this ceremony the commissioners, nuns, priests and believers go to the corral where the bulls are kept to hold the sale. The money coming from the sale of these offered bulls will be used by the Catholic Church for good works.

This festival has been occurring for more than 400 years. These observances began with the foundation of the town of Bayaguana in 1604, during the Spanish colonization

The Miracles

It is said that there were several miracles attributed to Santo Cristo de los Milagros that are recognized during this festival:

*The image of the Son of God appeared to a little girl and the sight of her blind mother was immediately restored.

*A paralyzed man, wanting to participate in the festival stood and walked.

*On this day in 1924, when the North American troops left Santo Domingo, the church bells rang by themselves.

The rest of the pictures that I collected:

The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana - Children and adults arrive on horseback.
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana – Children and adults arrive on horseback.
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana - More bulls are arriving.
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana – More bulls are arriving.
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana - Vaqueros arriving on horseback.
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana – Vaqueros arriving on horseback.
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana - There are some Cowgirls coming into town
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana – There are some Cowgirls coming into town
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana - People entering the festival singing and chanting Cantos de Toros
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana – People entering the festival singing and chanting Cantos de Toros
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana - People in the streets coming in for the festivities.
The Festival El Santo Cristo de Bayaguana – People in the streets coming in for the festivities.

Dominican Carnival Characters

Dominican Republic Carnival Characters and Their History

The Carnival in the Dominican Republic is a wonderful expression of the culture and community of the island in the Caribbean. Each mask, costume, color and dance has a distinct flavor that expresses the unique cultural mix and the Dominicans special way of creatively expressing themselves.

There are many different carnival group names used as well as the ways in which the Carnival participants present themselves here in República Dominicana. The costumes are each different and represent the communities and regions from which they come. These elaborate masks, mainly the Diablos, are made in secret in little out of the way, hidden places where one would never imagine that there was a work of art being created there. These costumes are highly guarded, as they want all to be a surprise and not want their secret out until Carnaval time has arrived. Also, there is much money and notoriety to be won by having the best costumes.

A Diablo mask that is very intricate made for the Dominican Carnival
A Diablo mask that is very intricate made for the Dominican Carnival

Some of the masks are homemade by the wearers and the group participants. The more elaborate costumes are professionally made using real teeth, horns and skins mainly of cows. Traditionally they make a mold of clay and cover it with a yucca starch paste like papier-mâché (paper mache). The masks are shined, painted and decorated. The inside is lined with foam fashioned to fit the wearers face. Recently the mask making process has changed a little. Many of the masks now are being made with plastic replacing the paper. When the mold is ready they are using fiberglass, rubber and silicone. This makes the making of the mask faster and they are more resistant to sweat and weather.

Carnival – Early History | Video – Slaves Abused By Spanish Captors | Celebrations Worldwide | Video – Children Dancing | Carnival – Dominican Tradition | The Economy of Carnival | Video-The Dancing Girls, Fire Throwers | La Vega | Santo Domingo | The Vejiga | Celebration Locations | Roba la Gallina Video | Dominican Republic Carnival Characters and Their History | Complete list of our Videos of Carnival | Links to all the Picture Albums |

Listed are some of the names of the masks and troupes I have located. There is so much variety and character descriptions I hope I got the information correct. Different people I ask and different sources I have read all have a little different information. At least you will get the general idea of how diverse, original and creative all these costumes and their creators really are.

Diablo Cojuelos take over the Malecon during Dominican Carnival.
Diablo Cojuelos take over the Malecon during Dominican Carnival.

Diablo Cojuelos/ Devil who walks with a limp (from La Vega) masked demons are some of the most famous of all the carnival characters. This devil, as the story is told, was a demon banished to Earth because of his clownish pranks. When he fell to earth he hurt his leg and from now on always walks with a limp. These evil-looking creatures are multi-horned, sharp-toothed beings. They always have very elaborate masks.

Many of the regions have varying versions of this horrific devil. Some wear the mask atop their heads making it almost seem as if they have two faces. They all wear costumes that are brightly decorated with variations on the embellishments and mask styles. Some costumes are covered with bells, dolls or stuffed animals. These costumes are layered with ruffles or all types of fancy vibrant decorations. Some have ruffles that cover the entire back of their heads. Their walk, supposedly limping, really looks to me like frenzied dancing and jumping. How they get all that energy wearing those hot costumes is beyond me.

The colorful mirrored Lechones at Carnaval Dominicano
The colorful mirrored Lechones at Carnaval Dominicano

Lechones/ Pork Eaters (from Santiago) are traditional Carnival characters. They have elaborate galactic designed satin and taffeta costumes decorated with mirrors, beads and bells. They wear papier maché masks with a duck-like bill, big horns and carry a whip. Some of the masks resemble pigs.

A futuristic Lechone at the Dominican Republic Carnival
A futuristic Lechone at the Dominican Republic Carnival

Watch the video of Los Lechones on YouTube

Nicolás Den Den (from Santiago) is a fat, dirty, dancing bear chained to his human master. His comedic antics make the children laugh. The same costumed characters in Montecristi is called el Oso Nicolás.

Los Platanuses with a Dominican Flag gourd mask.
Los Platanuses with a Dominican Flag gourd mask.

Los Platanuses (from Cibao) are covered in plantain leaves, wear painted gourd masks and carry the whip.

Trapuses/ Rag (from Bonao) wear long colorful rag strips that are woven together and have a mask of the same material or just paint their faces.

Shredded paper Papelus of Dominican Carnival
Shredded paper Papelus of Dominican Carnival

Papelus/ Paper (from Cibao) and El Papelón/ Newspaper print (from Salcedo) wear costumes made of shredded paper (newspapers, colored crepe paper, shopping bags) or colored plastic bags with gourd masks and carry vejigas/ the inflated bladder weapons or látigos/ whips

Se Me Muere Rebeca (Salcedo) – Represents a desperate mother who wants to keep her daughter who was seriously ill happy. Walking and screaming she stops and asks for treats for her ill daughter who is represented by the doll she carries. She is usually followed by groups of children.

Mudmen and Ladies portraying everyday life of the indigenous people during carnival
Mudmen and Ladies portraying everyday life of the indigenous people during carnival

Mudmen are a group of underwear wearing men and women that are encrusted with colored mud.

El Mediodía/ The MidDay is a man dressed as a woman with the colors of the flag painted on their face.

General Cocotico wears a palm leaf stem to represent armour.

Los Ali Baba in their bright costumes.
Los Ali Baba in their bright costumes.

Los Alí Babá These costumes and dance represent Eastern presence with an Arabian flair. Watch the Los Alibaba Drumming video on YouTube

Los Monos de Simonico/ The Monkeys (from Villa Duarte)

Máscaras del Diablo (from Elías Piña) – These devil masks are adorned with red ribbon. These mask wearers traditionally do not speak. It is said that if you find the identity of the person wearing the mask you will drop dead on the spot.

Macarao/ Big Mask (from Hermanas Mirabal/ Salcedo and Bonao) wear big devil masks that have large mean teeth representing different kinds of animals. Their clothing is made of crepe paper streamers.

Pepines with their pointy masks
Pepines with their pointy masks

Pepines (from Santiago) wear masks with horns with short points covering them

El Hombre en Zancos strolling down the Malecon
El Hombre en Zancos strolling down the Malecon

El Hombre en Zancos/ The Man on Stilts (from San Cristobal ) Have huge costumes either high above their heads or they are walking on stilts.

Taimácaros (from Puerto Plata ) are diablos wearing a mask that covers the entire body representing a Taino god or an ancient Spaniard, with a colorful shell covered belt at their waist.

Cachúa (from Barahona) has small spikes covering their devil mask many fashioned after the local creatures. The mask is covered with long, flowing, colored paper representing hair with their costumes having the bat looking wings, unique patterns and capes. These creatures jump around in the street and have whip-cracking battles. The louder the crack the better.

Los Indios representing the Taino Indians
Los Indios representing the Taino Indians

Los Indios/ The Indians (from Santiago) dress to look like he Taino Indians and act out different scenes.

Los Pirulíes (from Cabral Barahona) – These are children dressed as Indians with a skirt made of coconut leaves.

Muerte con su Perplegía/ Death in all its Perplexity.

Culebra y las Siete Pecados/ The Snake and the Seven Sins.

El Doctor acting out their story trying to heal the sick during Dominican Carnival
El Doctor acting out their story trying to heal the sick during Dominican Carnival

El Doctor/ The Doctor (from San Cristobal ) wears glasses made of wire and dried orange skins, running throughout the crowd looking for women to cure. There are also entire medical crews acting out different scenarios.

Carnaval - The swollen-lip El Jinchaíto de Moca
Carnaval – The swollen-lip El Jinchaíto de Moca

El Jinchaíto is the main person of carnival in Moca. They also have their other characters including Los Chacales, Los Búhos/ The Owls, Los Cibernéticos, Los Indeseables/ The Undesirable Ones, Los Coyotes/ The Cyotes, Los Diablos Azules/ The Blue Devils, Los Dragones/ The Dragons are among the most popular in this region. Read about the Legend of El Jinchaíto de Moca.

Los Brujos with their religious trinkets blowing fire.
Los Brujos with their religious trinkets blowing fire.

Los Brujos/ The Witches. Sometimes these characters can be quite frightening. The one pictured on the left blew fire out of his mouth.

Los Galleros This is a small play acted out in the streets between two farmers holding their roosters. They decide to fight their roosters in the middle of the street. While they are engaging in the fight the police arrive to stop the fight and arrest the men. This is one of the many play acting shows that occur during Carnival.

A very happy Roba la Gallina.
A very happy Roba la Gallina.

Roba la Gallina/ Chicken Robber (from San Cristobal and Salcedo) These fun characters are dressed in brightly colored dresses, with a huge butt and breasts, carrying an old umbrella and a big purse. This character hits all the Colmados begging for food and drink that he-she shares with the crowd representing its chicks. It is thought to come from the old tradition of tar and feathering a person that stole a chicken and making them walk through the streets. This bazaar person yells out silly rhymes (ti-ti, manatí, ton-ton, molondrón, roba la gallina, palo con ella) while he begs for food. This is a very popular Carnival character.

Guloyas (San Pedro de Macoris) dress in bright colors with long strips of cloth in red and yellow. The suit is decorated with mirrors. They dance around to the music of la flauta/ the flute, el cencerro/ bells la tambora/ drum.

Carnival of opposites with men dressing as women Los Travestis.
Carnival of opposites with men dressing as women Los Travestis.

Los Travestis/ The Transvestites are men dressing up as women that are to signify their machismo-ness. They are always a crowd favorite. (remember much of Carnival is opposites or the upside-down world).

Califé is a social and cultural poet. He makes verses that make jest and comically criticizes the government and political figures. He wears black and white with a big black hat.

Los Muerte en Yipe skeleton father and son at Carnaval Dominicano
Los Muerte en Yipe skeleton father and son at Carnaval Dominicano

La Muerte en Yipe/ Death in a Jeep (Hermanas Mirabal/ Salcedo) is a skeleton and skull costumed death figure that has wounds dripping with blood. The name comes from the days when the Death characters used to climb up on the backs of the jeeps that towed the floats during the carnival parades. They hold a scythe.

The Civiles/ Civilians (from Montecristi) fight the Toros/ Bulls with loud cracking whips known as látigos. El Toro wears a dotted, flat animal mask and a thick padded costume to protect against the wrath of Los Civiles who crack their large whips that they use to fight the bull. These characters have mock battles that are not mock when the whip hits you! The bull will be the victor in the upside-down world of Carnival.

Las Marimantas (from Yerba Buena) – They cover their bodies in tree branches. Their heads are covered with a shell and the masks are made of cow leather.

Los Tiznaos/ The Stained Ones paint themselves with old motor oil that makes them a nasty shiny black. They run through the crowds accepting money so that they will not hug you.

Africanos together for a publicity picture.
Africanos together for a publicity picture.

Africanos use charcoal to blacken their flesh and wear loincloths sometimes made from plantain leaves and do not wear shoes. They also carry a spear. Some wear afro wigs, paint their faces the color of the flag or wear gourd masks, all depending on what the character wants to do.

Complete list of our Videos of Carnival

Videos on YouTube I took in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on the Malecon and Elsewhere

Carnaval 2016 Video
*Carnaval Zona Colonial 2016
*Cueva de los Broncos con Claro Carnaval Vegano 2016
*Cueva de los Broncos con Claro Carnaval Vegano 2016 -Part 2

Carnaval 2013 Videos
*Carnaval Ciudad Colonial 2013
*Carnival Ciudad Colonial 2013 Starting

Carnival 2010 Videos
*Bailar en Calle-Slaves
*Dancing Girls and More.

Carnival 2011 Videos
*Cannot Stop Dancing at Carnival Dominicano 2011
*Music and Carnival Dominican Republic 2011

Carnival 2012 Videos
*Gaga Esperanza and Los Liones del Diablo
*Ucave Carnaval Vegano
*Haiti
*Sparkle Men
*The Group From Samana
*Los Brujos
*Lechones and Facebook
*Ali Baba and Other Groups
*Los Pintao Barahona
*Africanas on Stilts
*Roba la Gallina
*Los Indios and Fire Blower
*Dragon, Devil and Cavemen
*Gaga de Boca Chica
*Diablo Cojuelos

Carnaval 2008 Videos
*Los Alibaba Drumming
*Los Lechones dancing around

Stilt men
Stilt men

Links to all the Picture Albums

I put most of the pictures I took into slideshows. Some of the picture pages are very large files and some are in old formats. I hope you can enjoy the pictures.

*Carnaval in Ciudad Colonial 2013 Picture Album
*Dominican Republic Carnaval 2012 Picture SlideShow
*Pictures of Carnaval Dominicano / Dominican Carnival 2010
*Carnival 2008 slide show
*Old Carnival Pictures Slideshow

For more information about Carnival masks go to dominicanmasks.com

Carnival Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic Carnival / Carnaval Dominicano

Carnaval Dominicano an experience that everyone should have some time in his or her life. Visitors and Dominicans alike wait with anticipation for this time of year. The celebration brings with it so much color and tradition from the vivid colors of the costumes, the spirited music and lively dancing. The droves and crowds of humans with voices raised. Experiencing the electricity (even if the electric power may be out) coming from the participants and viewers alike as all join in the festivities. Carnival is a true Dominican experience.

Carnival is celebrated the entire month of Febrero/ February throughout the country of Dominican Republic filling each weekend with parades, events and competitions. Each town offers its own twist to the event. The celebration climaxes on or near the 27th of February, Dominican Independence Day.

The bright colors and smiling faces of Carnival Dominicano.
The bright colors and smiling faces of Carnival Dominicano.

Carnival – Early History | Video – Slaves Abused By Spanish Captors | Celebrations Worldwide | Video – Children Dancing | Carnival – Dominican Tradition | The Economy of Carnival | Video-The Dancing Girls, Fire Throwers | La Vega | Santo Domingo | The Vejiga | Celebration Locations | Roba la Gallina Video | Dominican Republic Carnival Characters, Pictures and Their History | Complete list of our Videos of Carnival | Links to all the Picture Albums |

The History of Carnaval

The use of masks to symbolize spiritual, supernatural and unknown spirit world entities has been used since before recorded history. Africa tribes and Native Americans, among the many ancient peoples, used masks to either depict, get the attention of, or to hide themselves from a higher, or more spiritual being. The natives of the island, the Tainos, and the natives of the surrounding islands had their own festivities long before the arrival of the Spaniards. Their celebrations were called areitos. Mainly they were to commemorate planting and harvest times. They also honored weddings, death and other significant happenings in their lives with these celebrations. They would use body decorations, tattoos, paint, jewelry, and masks during these festivals.

Later came the arrival of the Conquers and their African slaves. These new arrivals on the island brought with them carnival celebrations from their perspective countries. The African peoples brought with them their own festivals and celebrations. These contributed to the vibrant colors, and some of the traditions of making frightening masks, musical instruments, dance and songs. They also gave a little humor to the mix by making fun of themselves and life. It was a way to escape the hardships of life. Making their existence a little easier to bear by making jest of themselves and their circumstances.

Video – Slaves Abused By Spanish Captors

The first part of this video is a Dominican Carnival Troupe depicting the slaves and their captors. They act out the slaves being abused by their Spanish captors and the Monk is trying to stop this cruel atrocity. The song is Carnaval (Baila en la Calle) by Luis Diaz. If you cannot see the video it is located here https://youtu.be/Wasw61PULSk on YouTube.

Along with the arrival of Columbus and his entourage came European religion. Since carnival was mostly “pagan” the Spaniards added their religious inflections to the celebration. They wanted to permit their slaves to let loose and have a little diversion to get the “wild” out of their systems. Even though they said this was for the slaves and the natives of the island, the slave owners enjoyed the unrestrained festivities also. To pacify their spiritual side, they had to add some religion into the mix.

Carnival has been celebrated in Santo Domingo since the mid-1500’s and before. There is proof of carnival found in la Ruinas de la Vega Vieja/ Ruins of the Old Fertile Valley (near the present-day town of La Vega) showing that celebrations were going on here even before they were celebrated in Santo Domingo. The people in the old town of La Vega disguised themselves as Moors and Christians (the Moors, the name the Spanish gave the Islamic persons, and the Christians were always at odds).

Carnival crowds in Santo Domingo on the Malecon.
Carnival crowds in Santo Domingo on the Malecon.

It is thought that República Dominicana was the first place in the Americas to observe the pre-Lenten carnival custom. The celebrations became an escape from the pressures and rigidity of religious tradition. By the late 1700’s carnival had become a major celebration. Then when Dominican Republic won their independence February 27,1844 the celebration evolved to encompass the Independence Day commemorations as well. Finally, becoming what it is today. Beginning the traditional carnival with the pre-lenten celebrations, the climax concluding with the Independence Day observances. Combining both celebrations and making the entire month of February a celebration and time for enjoyment.

Carnival Celebrations Worldwide

Did you know?
Carnevale in Greek is pronounced Aprokies and it means “farewell to meat”. The original Latin word “carne vale,” means farewell to meat.

Many countries celebrate some type of Carnival. There are a multitude of different names as there are varieties of traditions that follow this custom. It is interesting to find that of the many different carnival traditions throughout the world how many of them are surprisingly similar.

Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday)- New Orleans, USA
Jamaica Carnival – Jamaica
Carnival of Binche – Belgium
Trinidad Carnival – Port of Spain, Trinidad
Carnival St. Thomas – US Virgin Islands
Nice Carnaval – French Riviera, France
Carnival of Venice – Italy
Carnival – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Carnival (Fastnacht) in Cologne – Cologne, Germany
Maslenitsa – Russian Carnival
Zapusty – Poland

Children Dancing

A brightly dressed Carnival Troupe comprised of mostly younger children dancing. All ages enjoy Carnaval and its festivities. This was before the Carnival parade even started. They were just practicing in the Parque San Jose in Ciudad Colonial. If you cannot see this video it is available on YouTube here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4l-g4H63D5M.

Carnival Dominican style

Carnival in Dominican Rep}ublic is a colorful and vibrant part of the culture here on the island of Hispaniola in the country of Dominican Republic.

Young and old alike are part of the carnival groups in Dominican Republic.
Young and old alike are part of the carnival groups in Dominican Republic.

Carnival is a countrywide festival, with each town having its own version of the custom. Every town adds a touch of their own flair to the merrymaking with diverse masks, costumes, characters, music and methods of celebrating. Even though there are many differences the thing all the celebrations have in common is they are all charged with unbridled energy. Carnival is also very family orientated, having both young and old join in the festivities. Participating groups can consist of family units, clubs, friends, families and businesses, all can participate in the carnival parade of masked and painted creatures.

The Diablos Cojuelos with their frightening and evil looking masks.
The Diablos Cojuelos with their frightening and evil looking masks.

Of the many costumes and creatures represented the most celebrated seem to be the devils known as Diablos Cojuelos. Others are painted bodies, or bodies decorated with paper. And yet others may have animal masks or elaborate costumes. Many disguises and get-ups symbolize the opposite, a world upside down. This is where the humor enters the scene. Men may dress as women. All is the opposite of what one would expect. This can be very funny to observe. Some costumes represent the Indians or mock the dress of the conquerors and oppressors of the island, the Europeans. These costumes are a mix or all the cultures, beliefs, peoples and ideas, making for a unique viewing experience. The costumes are only limited by the imagination of the creator.

A happy little girl being held by a smiling Carnival Diablo.
A happy little girl being held by a smiling Carnival Diablo.

It is enjoyable watching the children delighting in the carnival activities. Some are afraid and hide behind their parents. The parents love getting the pictures of their little ones taken with the masked creatures. Many children like to get dressed up in masks or paint their faces. They will mask themselves in whatever they have available. It is fun to see just how creative the children can be when need dictates. The future generation of carnival parades are being spawned.

The Economy of Carnaval

Men dress up as women all in fun.
Men dress up as women all in fun.

The Carnival is very good for the economy to bring in tourists by the droves. All are coming to observe this spectacle. It helps the entrepreneurs with their home businesses creating masks and souvenirs that are all carnival orientated. The mask-makers, the trinket manufacturers, the food vendors, the transportation industry. All have a chance to make a nice profit during the month of February thanks to the carnival. Mask makers can start creating as soon as the carnival is over, preparing and designing for the following year. Readying a town for carnival usually starts immediately after the Christmas celebrations. Getting all ready to make money for the town and its people and to have a good time.

Representing the tragedy at Rio Blanco in Jimini when many people died buried under a huge mudslide.
Representing the tragedy at Rio Blanco in Jimini when many people died buried under a huge mudslide.

Each troupe will represent different regions and towns throughout Dominican Republic. A town or barrio will have his or her own unique costumes and customs. For many, each year the costumes must be different. Some burn their costumes after the carnival, which represents change or closure, while others give their used costumes to the children. These costumes are widely diverse, some made of bright materials including satin and taffeta. Some are decorated with small round and square mirrors, bells, ribbons, whistles, tiny dolls. While other costumes are fierce, repulsive and quite hideous. Many can be very beautiful and elegant. Some of the troupes portray past historical events and tragedies. There are men dressed as ladies, bodies covered in black grease, and other bodies brightly painted.

Close-up of a mask where you can see human eyes inside
Close-up of a mask where you can see human eyes inside

Carnival can be a very competitive pageant as there are prizes given for the best of the best in many different categories. With artists and participants working together to get the right fit and the look they desire. They can work all year making their costumes so they can join to celebrate and compete in this festival. Costume design and character presentations come together for the judging of the best groups in Carnival. The capital celebrations only permit up to 150 groups participating per region. Here the winners of the local Carnival events merge for this the grandest of competitions. Original masks, costumes, floats and masked dance groups fuse to create a flood of activities in the streets. There can be more than 50,000 parade participants joining in the Malecon parade in Santo Domingo with over half a million people that bombard the capital to watch and join in the carnival celebrations. All this is presided over by the King of the Carnival who is elected every year.

Carnaval Dominican Republic 2010 on the Malecon, Santo Domingo.

The Dancing Girls, Fire Throwers, Soy Dominicano and more. The flavors of Carnival Dominican style. To watch on YouTube https://youtu.be/nnol2k9EtzU

La Vega

Crowds of people at Carnival in La Vega.
Crowds of people at Carnival in La Vega.

The most popular Carnival activities are in the town of La Vega. Normally a very quiet town with not many tourists draw. During the carnival here is where thousands of people go every Saturday and Sunday during the month of February. People gather on Calle Padre Adolfo (with the cathedral lurking in the distance), in front of the Parque de las Flores or to watch the spectacular event. The registered groups, known as comparsas, participate in the Carnival parade. These groups can be well organized. Many have participated together for many years. The groups may include from 10 to 15 people and sometimes many more. The traditional costumes are carefully sewn months in advance and are very intricate and colorful.

Santo Domingo

The final Carnival Parade down the Malecon in Santo Domingo
The final Carnival Parade down the Malecon in Santo Domingo

Traditionally in old Santo Domingo now known as Colonial Zone, the night before Carnival, people lit their homes, balconies and streets. Illuminating the entire town. The boats would be decorated. There would be oranges and egg shells filled with scented water, the hole plugged with wax. These were called ojos de cera/ wax eyes. They were thrown at the crowds. The procession was held on Calle el Conde. (The Egg History: The Romans phrase Omne vivum ex ovo, “All life comes from an egg.” The egg is a universal symbol of birth and resurrection. It has been used by many cultures. The Egyptians and Greeks used eggs in their burial rituals. Mexico fills eggs (cascarones) with confetti or small prizes and throws them. Early variations, connected with the customarily riotous pre-Lenten celebrations, were filled with either perfumed or nasty-smelling colored water and sealed with a plug of wax.)

A young man selling little Diablo necklaces at carnaval.
A young man selling little Diablo necklaces at carnaval.

The Carnival celebrations held in Santo Domingo is the climax of all the carnival activities bring troupes from the entire island together with a magnificent and impressive parade held on the Malecon. The major competitions are held here with a nice sum of money to be won. The capital city is invaded with beings of all varieties, type and descriptions. They are everywhere, roaming the streets. It is not easy to distinguish the parading beings from the beings watching the spectacle as many observers wear costumes also. You may see someone with toothpicks protruding from their hair. Diving from eggs being thrown. Whips cracking. People yelling as they are hit by a masked creature on the backside. There will be debris littering the streets. People will have their faces painted. Children will have on plastic Halloween masks. There are all types of food being sold. Vendors selling their wares and trinkets commemorating the carnival. The sights and sounds of Dominican Carnival.

The Vejiga

The vejigas/ inflated bladder balloons carried by many Carnival characters
The vejigas/ inflated bladder balloons carried by many Carnival characters

Amongst all the colors, activity and music in abundance, one must always be on high alert for the vejigas/ the inflated bladder weapons and the látigos/ whips. The vejigas are a balloon-type weapon dangling at the end of a strap, toted by these wicked creatures. These balls are traditionally made of either cow or pig bladders and filled with air. They are also sometimes made of rubber these days. These are used to hit the people that happen to get in the way. Always aiming to hit on the lower part of the body but with all the commotion in the street it is a free for all. Originally these balls were used as crowd control to make way for the costumed people. It is said that getting hit brings good luck. I think it is luckier if you can avoid being hit. I suggest staying away from these weapon-bearing creatures because getting hit hurts. Getting wapped in the butt is not pleasant but it is all part of the Carnival experience.

WARNING. Do not try and block the hit if you see it coming. Just turn your butt to the weapon and let it hit there. It hurts much less on the back side than it does on the hand and other areas of the body.

Celebration Locations

The police working to control the crowds watching to try and make sure all is safe during carnival.
The police working to control the crowds watching to try and make sure all is safe during carnival.

During most carnival celebrations the la Cámara de Diputados y el Patrimonio Folklórico de la Nación/ The House of Representatives and the Folkloric Patrimony of the Nation set limitations for the safety of all involved, paraders and observers alike. Prohibited are firearms, glass bottles and any knife/machete type weapon. Also, they watch closely to make sure the vejigas are within the limits that have been set forth. No sharp edges or objects attached. They cannot be inflated to be too hard. They try to make the carnival safe and fun for all.

The most popular Carnival celebrations are:
*Carnaval Vegano – Carnival in La Vega – This is thought to be the oldest carnival celebration in the Americas. Held in the center of this small town on Calle Duarte starting at the church.
*Carnaval Bonao – La “Villa de las Hortensias” held in the Parque Central
*Carnaval Santiago. This huge carnival is held on the streets Las Carreras, Beller and Francia
*Carnaval Salcedo – Held on the main street passing by the church.
*Carnaval Santo Domingo Este – one of the newer additions to the weekly carnival celebrations.
*Carnival Santo Domingo – The capital city has the grand finale carnival parade.

Mickey and Minnie made an appearance at Carnaval Dominicano.
Mickey and Minnie made an appearance at Carnaval Dominicano.

No matter where one goes to see Carnival it is a true fusion of culture and religion Dominican style. Always a grand blend of colors, music, wild activities and exciting dances. The Diablos Cojuelos come out into the streets swinging their weapons and cracking their whips. The people are enjoying it. It is an audience participation parade in grand scale. Something that all should experience sometime in their lives.

Roba La Gallina

The Roba la Gallina or Chicken Robber is a fun part of the Dominican Republic Carnaval. These large people be it children, women or men dressed as women, walking with their umbrellas and big butts are fun to watch. Their bright smiles and big back sides shaking. YouTube link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnol2k9EtzU

Continue to learn about all the Dominican Republic Carnival Characters.