Saturday, December 16, 2017
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Dominican Carnivals: One Big Colorful Party.

Cabarete Carnaval 2016 Dominican RepublicIt’s late Febuary in the DR and you can hear from a far the lyrics to a famous carnaval song… “Baila en la calle de noche, baila en la calle de día!”.Dancing on the Street at night, dancing on the Street at daytime. Dominican traditions can easily translate into color, dance, joy and music. And that’s what has happened with its Carnivals. Each region and town gathers to celebrate in a massive party around the main streets, each with their own style, characters and costumes. This usually happens every weekend in February, but it can also carry on until March.

In the Dominican Republic, the celebration takes place before Easter and it climaxes along with Independence Day (February 27th). They include all members of society, and in most cases people don’t mind going from one town to another to participate in them. The biggest and most popular ones take place in La Vega, Santo Domingo, Santiago and Monte Cristi.

Artisans work all year to finish hundreds of handmade costumes and masks for the biggest parades. It carries along a lot of tradition, since they started out during the colony times while the island was occupied by Spaniards. Carnival celebrations have their origins traced to pagan parties, in honor of Baco the god of wine, amongst others, and are common in countries with catholic roots.

Cabarete Es Un Carnaval 2016 Dominican RepublicCabarete Es Un carnaval 2016 Dominican Republic

In the times, they serve as a chance to keep the spirits high in front of the abstinence the body was about to endure during Easter. Nowadays, it is common to find specific groups and characters that represent the region, especially with:

  • Roba La Gallina (Steal the Chicken): consisting of a man dressed up as a voluptuous woman that throws candy and dances with exaggerated movements.
  • Se me muere Rebeca (Rebeca is dying): A woman that screams and shouts in a desperate manner, she represents a low income possibly single mom whose daughter is dying due to lack of medicine.
  • Diablos Cojuelos (Limping Devils) from La Vega and Bonao: men dressed up with devil masks that carry a “vejiga” (animal bladder filled with air and used to hit people on the street) or a whip.
  • Califé: Character that shouts poems about politics or government officials.
  • Los indios (The Indians): Group of men and women dressed like native tainos.
  • La Ciguapa: female character that tries to enchant men, she has long hair that covers her naked body and whose feet are backwards.
  • Los Guloyas from San Pedro de Macorís: Declared cultural heritage of humanity, this group was born from Cocolos (non-Hispanic African descendants that came from British or French Caribbean islands) that live in the Dominican Republic.
  • Los Tiznaos from Villa Consuelo (The Africans): Their bodies are covered in coal and burned oil, wear palm tree skirts and necklaces made with cow or dog teeth. The tiznaos focus on promoting African heritage and ask for money, those who don’t pay get hugs and therefore ruined clothes.
  • Los Pintaos de Barahona: Bodies are painted with several colors or acrylic paint, and only intimates are covered in cloth. The dance and laugh freely through the whole event. • Las Cachúas de cabral: Usually dressed with overalls and bat wings, they represent the slave hunters, they carry whips and go around looking for civilians. They embody the tension between slavery and liberty.
  • Los Lechones (Pepineros and Joyeros) from Santiago: Conceived as the guardians of the carnaval, the lechones were the head of the carnaval and avoided indiscipline from the crowds. The pepineros (from the sector of Los Pepinos) became known for their plain horns. However, coming from La Joya sector, unlike pepineros, these have ornaments on their horns (thorns).
  • La muerte en Yipe: Dressed as death itself, it accompanies the devils. Sometimes riding on top of a Jeep in the Santo Domingo parade.

During the time, we gathered up with Erick Michael Vargas, who has been active in celebrating the carnival festivals during the last 35 years.

“I’ve been a Diablo Cojuelo all my life. It started out when I was a kid, we’d see the carnival pass by our street, so one year my cousin got herself a costume and the next at least 5 of us wanted one as well and so on and so forth, up until a whole family of 30 so people were participating. We kept growing and admitting people into our Comparsa up until the point we decided to make our own costumes and started a revolution in costumes, concepts and design. We’ve represented the country Dominican parades in New York and Curacao".

Photo: Private

Cabarete Carnaval Poster DreamBuz Media DesignKeeping the tradition alive, Erick Michael says even though they portray a famous character with distinctive qualities, they also add a more modern touch
“We were the first in giving a higher value to the Fantasy Cojuelos. The traditional kind only carries small mirrors on the suit and a mask with 4 horns. The fantasy kind can be considered like a freestyle that keeps its original essence alive.”

This year, his comparsa The Lions of Villa Maria won 1st and 2nd place in the Santo Domingo carnival contest, in individual category and also the group category which includes about 60 people from all different ages. His cousins are considered to be the angular stones of the comparsa.
“We work all year on this. My cousins, Miguel Felix, Cristina Mieses, Jose Guillermo Mieses and their mom Esther Mieses all work together in designing, sowing and keeping everything in check.”

When compared to foreign carnivals, Erick says:

“We have so many characters, and it’s interesting because they are the result of our expressions and our reality here in the country. It’s the most popular party in the country and everyone is invited to participate and enjoy.” These characters and more can be appreciated in Dominican Carnivals, a true mixture of heritage, history, culture and fun.

Cabarete Es Un carnaval is coming to town on March 19th 2016. Visit their website here to learn more about the event and the Carnival in the DR. 

Photos: Eva & Jens Knof/Private

See Video from the 2015 Test Run here: 
Cabarete Es Un Carnaval Dominican Republic 2016

2016 Carnaval Video

It’s humbling to see a community getting together for a carnival the way it did on the north coast of The Dominican Republic this year. Check out the story :) 

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