The carnival is the most important and all-encompassing festivity of Dominican popular culture. Carnival is a recreational celebration of freedom, integration and identity. The masks, exaggeration, sarcasm, satire, the unusual, the unedited, the daring, the grotesque and the imaginary are all fundamental elements of the celebration.
The festivities of carnival arrived with the culture of the Spanish colonizers. There is documentary proof of these festivals before 1520 in the city of Santo Domingo for various events. The Shrovetide carnival, ending the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, was in honor of the celebrations of Saint Andrew, Saint John the Baptist, Corpus Christi and the anniversary of the city of Santo Domingo, among others.
To celebrate national independence, a carnival was included on February 27, and eventually became an institutionalized patriotic expression. In addition to this, we use carnivals to remember the patron festival of Azua, to commemorate of the Restoration of the Republic, to mark the anniversary of the founding of Santo Domingo and the Holy Week in the bateyes (workers' settlements) of Elía Piña, San Juan de la Maguana, La Joya de Guerra, Cabral and Barahona.
Carnival of La Vega
The La Vega carnival is one of the oldest in the country. Every Sunday in February, elation, music, shouts and the sound of vejigas, dried cow bladders used as noisemakers, fill the streets of La Vega, the caves (the places where the devils or macaraos prepare) are left empty and the Las Flores park and its surroundings are transformed into an expression of the town's enthusiasm, splendor, pride and generosity.
The devil is the central character of the Dominican carnival, in La Vega as well as the rest of the country. The La Vega carnival is the most significant expression of the city's popular culture and is the carnival that has grown the most in the country. It is a national example and its organization is coordinated by the Unión Carnavalesca Vegana (UCAVE).
In Bonao, as in all of the towns in the country, a salon carnival was held in social clubs for the local elite, while another was celebrated in the street. In 1990, restless youth organized the carnival comparsas, or dance groups, and one year later, the Comité Organizador del Carnaval de Bonao (COCABO) was formed, the institution responsible for the organization, institutionalization and development of the carnival.
The Bonao carnival has experienced one of the greatest quantitative and qualitative growths in the country. The establishment of the carnival as a demonstration of the heritage of various social sectors, youth participation, passion and pride, guarantees the future of the macaraos of Bonao.
Carnival of San Cristóbal
In a socio-cultural context of Spanish, African and Dominican roots, the carnival of San Cristóbal spontaneously appeared.
Due to the fall of the Trujillo regime and the war of April 1965, this carnival went through a profound crisis and only was kept alive by Julio Heredia de los Santos, nicknamed Walter James.
Despite the obstacles, in February 1980, the youth of theater and musical-vocal
groups organized the popular carnival of San Cristóbal.
In order to revive the essence of the carnival, memories of past celebrations
were used as reference, and dance groups, of Diablos Cojuelos (mischievious
devils), Africans adorned with multicolor suits, Indians, Roosters, the 21 Divisions,
the Califé, or conscience of the festivities, and the Roba La Gallina
represented in a couple, she exuberant and he lifeless, Death with his vejigas
of bells and ribbons, among others, reemerged.
On February 27, the comparsas, or dance groups, pass through the streets of
San Cristóbal, and upon arriving at the Monumento Piedras Vivas park,
they act out their subject before the public and the jury, making the this festivity
the carnival with the greatest pedagogical dimension in the country.
Carnaval de Cotuí
Though the devil exists as a generic character in the Dominican carnival, Cotuí has one of the most rich and authentic roster of characters in the national festivities. In addition to the traditional Roba La Gallina, Tiznaos and others, in Cotuí we have El Mediodía (a man dressed as a woman with his face painted blue, white and red), La Litera, the Dead with his Perplegía, La Culebra and its Siete Pecados, La Muerte en Zanco, and el General Cocotico, and others.
The most important, original and authentic characters of this lovely carnival
are the Platanuses, with a suit of dried banana leaves and a mask of higuero
leaves. In recent years, the masks have been colored, and thus have gained visibility.
The planatú was transformed upon the arrival of papel de traza, a special
type of paper, which served as inspiration for a new costume: los Papeluses.
This costume continued to develop using newsprint paper, vejiga paper and crepe
paper, and finally, plastic wrap due to its durability. These original characters,
beautiful and low cost, make the carnival of Cotuí one of the most original
and authentic in the country.
The Guloyas of San Pedro de Macorís
The cocolos, descendents of English-speaking Afro-Antilleans, fill the streets
and fields of San Pedro de Macorís with unique music, dance, beliefs,
drinks and foods. They have the most impact on the dance and music of the carnival.
Their dances are full of content, recreation, satire and humor; and their music
is full of rhythm, cadence, melody, lyricism, dreams and nostalgia.
In the dance performance, there is always a pedagogical message with profound
social content, which praises the triumph of good over evil, defends women (despite
the fact that women are excluded from the dances) and celebrates the struggle
and triumph of the weak over the powerful and the oppressed over the oppressor.
The cocolo culture has enriched our national identity through the carnival of
San Pedro de Macorís.
Las Cachúas de Cabral
Saturday, Sunday and Monday after Holy Week in Cabral, Barahona and communities
in the area like Peñón, Fundación, Cristóbal, Salinas
and others, we find the Cachúas, with beautiful masks, full of color,
music and movement, with a wig of crepe paper or vejiga. With their whips, they
subject the people and end the festival with the burning of Judas-Calié
in the cemetery, in one of the most impressive and significant ceremonies in
all of Dominican folklore, the Monday after Holy Week.
Carnival of San Juan de la Maguana
Surrounding the road toward Las Matas de Farfán, in San Juan de la Maguana,
we find a variety of masks with more characteristics and marks of the African
presence among us, among them the Tifúas, full of asphalt and horsehair,
and the Cocorícamo, with an enormous horse head.
Carnival in Elías Piña
Upon the conclusion of their activities, on Saturday, the masks are carried
to the mountain, burned and their ashes are spread over the sown fields as a
symbol of worship to fertility. As an homage to the arrival of spring, the drums
and bamboo fututos (flutes) and other instruments announce Holy Friday, with
the presence of a theatrical Gagá, which differs from the other types
found in the bateyes of the country.
The Carnival of Santiago
Among the most important carnivals is that of Santiago, which maintains itself
by using formal popular elements as symbols for influential sectors, as is the
case of the lechones, one type of masked devil.
The Carnival of Salcedo
In Salcedo, the carnival features a richness of characters. The suit that identifies
the carnival is made of crepe paper of the most intense colors of the Dominican
carnival. Throughout the month of February, they go on parade every Sunday and
during this time, no one can touch the suits.
The conclusion of the carnival of Salcedo is a purification ritual, a symbolic
step between the old and the new, when the people tear off the multicolored
crepe paper of the suits of the macaraos.
Carnival of Monte Cristo
In Monte Cristo, the main procession takes place on February 27 with the famous
toros (bulls) and civiles, two unique characters in the Dominican carnival.
Their combat begins in the cemetery of the city.
Carnival of Puerto Plata
In Puerto Plata, the costumes are named Taimáscaro, a word with Taino
roots. The pants of the suit carry snails to symbolize the relationship of the
inhabitants of Puerto Plata with the sea, and the sleeves carry hankerchiefs
of mystery, elements of African culture.
The Carnival of Santo Domingo
The Carnival of Santo Domingo has a national character, as, in addition to featuring the activities of the Capital and its surroundings, it also exhibits symbols of all of the provinces. With the political division of the Capital into four provinces, a carnival has only recently begun in the western zone.
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