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Dominican Republic Carnival Masks
How do Dominican Carnival Masks work?

The Dominican Carnival each February is a huge celebration. It is an event in which the whole family can participate. It is a tradition that is believed to have begun years ago in the Santiago and La Vega areas of the Dominican Republic as a celebration of the countries independence from Spain. During those years, Dominicans began to develop their own identity. The traditions and celebrations they then began to enjoy established them as purely Dominican for the first time. Many of those same traditions and celebrations have carried through to today and are exhibited during carnival activities. Today, the carnival is celebrated in many parts of the country and seems to gain in popularity every year. Many of its themes today have deep rooted European and African influences.

The celebrations usually entail large numbers of colorfully costumed and masked participants parading down streets. In different areas of the country, the celebrations may differ slightly as each regions community adds their own particular flavor to the event. Many of the towns, however, use similar costumes and masks. One of the most popular and commonly seen characters is Diablo Cojuelo. Legend has it that he is a demon that was banished to earth because he was such a prankster. When he was banished, he landed awkwardly on his leg and fell. The term “cojuelo” means to walk with a limp. When this character walks in the parade, he generally does so with a limp. Another 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 him with children that follow him around. There is usually also a group 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 commonly seen 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.

Because the cities of Santiago and La Vega have celebrated carnival for the longest time and with the most continuity, they have the most original and recognizable masks. The celebrations in La Vega and Santiago are somewhat different. La Vega, very much an agricultural community, has a traditionalist environment and as a result, the carnival celebrations act as a protector of these traditions. The La Vega carnival is actually celebrated on two levels. The first is the public one celebrated every Sunday in the general area of the central plaza. This is the one that the vast majority of people attend. The second is more of a private celebration which takes place in private clubs and locations where only certain people are invited.

The masks that you will see at the La Vega carnival are very elaborate and particularly frightening. They generally have bulging, bloodshot eyes, rows of fangs as teeth and protruding horns. They are also usually highly decorated in rhinestones and feathers.

The Carnival La Vega also provides a much needed economic boost to the town every year. The making and distributing of the masks provides employment and many people from around the country and from abroad make an annual trip to La Vega to witness the popular carnival thereby helping out the local economy.
 
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