Monday, December 18, 2017

See devils this February

Enjoy the Carnival in La Vega

Famous for its colorful and extremely elaborate devil costumes, loud music and cracking whips, Carnival is a big thing in the Dominican Republic. The oldest and most notorious Carnival takes place in La Vega, a sleepy city in the hills, which comes to life every Sunday of February when it hosts tens of thousands of visitors as the Carnival madness breaks loose.



So many elaborate masks  - photo credit: Roxanne E.Day long processions and parades of well-organized Carnival troupes from all over the country that have been preparing their wildly colorful masks and costumes for months in advance show off their stomping and dancing to loud Caribbean beats while brandishing a vejiga, a whip with a balloon at the end. There are no barriers between those that parade and those that observe so when people get it in the way, revelers will hit bottoms, sometimes as hard as they can, with their balloon whips. Being hit is supposed to bring good luck but it is sure to give you a bruise as well.
Diablo Cojuelo
The most famous character in the Vegan Carnival is the Diablo Cojuelo, the limping devil. The story goes that this devil was a demon banished to Earth because of his clownish pranks. When he fell to earth he hurt his leg and from then on developed a limp. This evil-looking creature is multi-horned and sharp toothed. It is also said that this character, which has many different versions in different regions around the country, is a parody on the Spanish settlers of the 16th century. The costume includes a colorful caped suit with little mirrors, rattles, ribbons, and cowbells meant to parody pretentious medieval gentlemen.
Masks and costumes
The little mirrors on the costumes are supposed to represent the vanity of the Spanish settlers - photo credit: Roxanne E.Different Carnival troupes have different masks and costumes, depending on the region and community they come from. Especially around La Vega, secret out of the way workshops create their elaborate masks, mainly the Diablos, and the costumes are highly guarded until Carnival arrives. The best costumes can win quite a lot of money and notoriety.

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. The masks are shined, painted and decorated. The inside is lined with foam fashioned to fit the wearer’s face.

Many of the costumes have spiritual backgrounds, and feature capes with religious symbols. Some have rattles hanging from their capes to clear out negative energy, while others have little dolls on their chest representing that new life must flourish. The Carnival masks originally came from Spain. They were then adapted by Africans, who helped create the designs that can be seen today.
Typical Carnival characters
Apart from the limping devil there are many other typical characters that can be seen at the different Carnivals.

Roba la gallina or The Chicken Thief is a costumed female character with extremely large breasts and behind bearing an open parasol. The character goes from colmado to colmado asking for his chicks. Sometimes sweets are given to the character who then redistributes his loot to the children that tend to follow these characters. It is believed that originally the chicken thief dressed up as a woman hiding the stolen chickens in the breast and behind area.

Califé is a poet who playfully criticizes personalities from the political, social and cultural scene in rhyme. He is followed by a chorus and is dressed in a black tuxedo.

La muerte en Jipeta or Death in a Jeep is represented by a character dressed as a masked skeleton. He escorts the diablos cojuelos.

Los indios or The Indians are a group of people portraying the island's first inhabitants, wearing body paint, feathers, bows and lances.Some characters are really scary - photo credit: Roxanne E.

Los africanos o los tiznaos or The Africans or The Blackfaces are characters whose bodies are painted black with coal and burned car oil. They portray African slaves who were brought to the country years ago, and dance along the streets.

Apart from the organized processions many residents and visitors also dress up. Especially children like to “dress up” by covering themselves in mud. The idea is that unsuspecting visitors should give them a coin or two to avoid getting hugged by these little muddy monsters.
Don’t miss out
This year's Carnival in La Vega starts on Sunday 1 March, and will be more busy every next Sunday for the rest of February. Especially the last Sunday, as the month long celebration climaxes into the simultaneous celebration of the Dominican independence on 27 February, is a memorable event.

You can easily get to La Vega by bus from Sosua with Caribe Tours but be sure to keep in mind that bus tickets might be sold out for the times you want to go or come back. Bus tickets can also not be bought in advance. A more secure but more expensive way would be to gather a few friends and go there by taxi.

Carnival festivities will be taking place all over the country in all major towns, so if you can't make it to La Vega you can still enjoy the carnival athmosphere elsewhere. If you happen to be in Santo Domingo on 1st of March, then be sure to watch the National Carnival Parade, which will then take place along the Malecon.

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