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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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