Dominican Republic.- Throughout the month of February and the first part of March the cities of the Dominican Republic liven up with the animated carnival celebrations, a fiesta that is very popular here and that, because of its increasing magnificence, in recent years has also gained growing interest among part of the tourist sector.
The Dominican Carnival is a multiform folkloric tradition given that each town has its different fiestas with their typical street dances and carnival characters, their own dances and musical accompaniment.
The multicolored costumes, the large papier-mãché masks, the overwhelming rhythm of hundreds of drums, whistles and horns, pure African characters and dances and horrific “Devils” of the European tradition are some of the ingredients that have the greatest impact.
Thus, the parades through the principal cities with a carnival tradition – like La Vega, Santiago and Santo Domingo – today have also become a very attractive event for thousands of local and international tourists. Moreover, for some years now, in some tourist destinations – like La Romana and Punta Cana, to the east of the country – large parades, bringing together the best of the varied Dominican carnival tradition from different provinces, are being successfully organized for the tourists.
For centuries, the Spanish Catholic culture Carnestolendas Carnival in the Dominican Republic has evolved with different nuances in several of the country’s provinces, being contaminated with the multiple traditions of the African slaves and other foreign influences. The Dominican Carnival, as a live culture, still continues evolving in our days. Its history and its present can be told through a brief feature through the principal Carnival Cities.
The Carnival Cities
According to historians, the La Vega Carnival is the oldest in the Americas (around 1510). It was described, for the first time, by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas in 1520 during a visit to the city, where he found the inhabitants celebrating dressed in Moorish and Christian costumes.
Even today La Vega Carnival is the country’s most renowned, presenting a fiesta comparable to the best carnivals in the world.
The character symbol of the Dominican Carnival, the Lame Devil, was born in La Vega. According to tradition, this character was a mischievous and playful demon that tried the patience of Satan himself; the latter threw him down to earth, during which he hurt a leg during the fall and he became lame.
In La Vega, every Sunday evening in February a grand dancing parade takes place; all of a sudden, the Lame Devils take over the streets armed with their bull bladders full of air with which they hit the buttocks, thighs and legs of all those who try to flee, in this way “mending their sins” and…leaving them lame for a few seconds. The papier-mãché masks of the Lame Devils of La Vega are among the country’s most appreciated.
The horrific figure of the devil is present in all the Dominican provincial carnivals with endless variants and different names (for example, in Salcedo and Bonao they are called Macaraos; in Santiago de los Caballeros, Lechones, etc.).
La Vega Carnival also features other very famous street dances, like the Broncos, the Tiznados, the Enlodados, among others. Their origins come from a contamination of the Culebra de San Blás Cuban culture, a street dance introduced in the late 19th century by Cuban immigrants fleeing from the revolution in that country (other street dances of Cuban origin, like the Baile del Caimán and the Negrita Conga, are found in the city of Puerto Plata).
Santiago de los Caballeros
The Santiago Carnival is one of the country’s best and most deeply rooted. The parades take place every Sunday in February.
In Santiago, the main characters are the Lechones, divided into two principal antagonistic families, the Pepineros and the Joyeros. The Lechones Pepineros have been historically identified with the part of the city called “Pueblo Arriba” and exhibit a mask with long straight horns and a duck-shape bill. The Joyeros of “Pueblo Arriba” are distinguished for the horns with ramifications and thorns or spikes and the hog-shape mouth. The explosive whipping of their powerful whips characterizes the parade of Santiago’s Lechones.
The current leader of the Santiago Carnival is Raudy Torres, who plays the role of Roba-la-gallina (steal the hen), the country’s most famous character. With his costumes made of yards of cloth and his particular grace, for the last 30 years he has travelled a great deal to represent the Dominican tradition in the world’s major carnivals. He has danced in all the big national events and for all the presidents of the Dominican Republic – he said in an interview – and even for U.S. presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton.
The character of Roba-la-galllina, probably of Haitian origin, is found in all the provinces and municipalities of the Dominican Republic. It is interpreted by a man dressed as a woman, with extremely large breasts and buttocks and wearing exaggerated makeup; he carries a backpack – where he supposedly hides the stolen hen – which he fills with sweets, begging in the grocery stores and other shops, to throw to the jubilant children, who follow him in procession through the street. He makes his stops on street corners, where he dances and takes the opportunity to collect money and gratuities for his presentation.
On Saturday February 22, the Casa de Campo (La Romana) resort will vibrate to the beat of drums, full of the brilliant colors of the costumes that will liven up the Grand Parade of La Marina 2014 Carnival. During the evening, the lively caravan – formed by a complete selection of the best street dances and carnival characters from throughout the country – will make the rounds of the streets and docks of the Marina Casa de Campo to converge in the elegant Plaza Portofino.
Here, in a large dais, the different carnival groups will perform with music, dances and a grand closing concert.
In its third edition, La Marina Carnival has integrated and rescued La Romana Carnival. Like every year, it will be dedicated to an outstanding protagonist of the Dominican Carnival. The character of honor in this edition will be Juan Francisco Vázquez – “Juampa,” leader of the Cotuí Carnival, accompanied by the street dance of the Platanuses.
In 2013 the guest of honor was Raudy Torres, the most famous interpreter of the character of Roba-la-gallina; and in 2012 it was Los Guloyas, the famous San Pedro de Macorís folklore group declared by UNESCO a Master Work of Oral and Immaterial World Heritage.
“The carnival is the celebration most loved by the Dominican people and La Marina Carnival is a unique fiesta for the entire family and the tourists of La Romana-Bayahibe; a show of great cultural interest because it brings together in a single scenario the best of a varied tradition from different Dominican provinces; an event that can’t be missed, after the resounding success of the two previous editions,” Vilma Núñez, president of the La Marina Carnival Committee, said.
According to the organizers, “the Grand La Marina Parade, while contributing to preserving such an important cultural expression as the Dominican Carnival, also aims to give it international projection among the select public frequenting the Casa de Campo complex. La Marina Carnival is already one of the country’s most important and a tradition of La Romana-Bayahibe tourist destination.”
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The Cotuí Carnival (Sánchez Ramírez province) is held every Sunday in February and, together with La Vega and Santiago de los Caballeros carnivals, it is one of oldest in the country, dating back to colonial times and to the exploitation, since the 16th century, of the first gold mine in the New World, in Pueblo Viejo.
Like in the entire country, it presents an extensive contamination of the European tradition with the culture of the African slaves.
The Cotuí Carnival has numerous carnival characters and, among them, the Platanús is the oldest and most emblematic. With very strong African roots, the Platanuses exhibit costumes made with leafs of dry plants and masks made with fig tree leafs, decorated with termite nests and beehives.
This character gave origin, since the first decade of the 20th century, to the Papelús, whose costume is made by replacing the plantain leafs with any type of paper (originally, mainly newsprint). The Papeluses are today the most popular characters of the Cotuí Carnival and Juampa is its principal representative, creator of the Papelús Alado.
His costumes are different every year and always memorable, magical works of art made with paper and other materials, which he himself makes according to the old family tradition and which have deserved being exhibited in anthropological museums.
In recent years, other similar characters have derived from the Papelús – like the Fundis, dressed with plastic slips, or the Trapús, dressed in old rags – adding increasingly more color to the Cotuí Carnival.
In Santo Domingo, every Sunday in February is also carnival time. Moreover, the capital hosts the National Carnival Parade, which in 2014 will take place on Sunday March 2 (starting at 10:00 am), along the city’s Malecón seaside drive. It is the biggest and most attended annual parade of the country, which brings together all the street dances and characters of the different Dominican carnivals.
The Town Hall of the National District and the Ministry of Culture, among others, are responsible for its organization.
In the capital’s barrios one can find the greatest diversity of the country’s carnival tradition and some renowned typical characters, like Alibabá and Se-Me-Muere-Rebeca.
In the city of Bonao (Monseñor Nouel province), the carnival parade is carried out every Sunday in February along Duarte Avenue, concluding with a musical show in La Delicia Park. On Sunday March 9, Bonao will host the Grand Regional Parade, which brings together street dances from different cities of the region of Cibao Central.
The history of the Bonao Carnival dates back to the late 19th century and, since then, is has been distinguished by the originality of its Macaraos (masked persons): the Dragones, the Furiosos, and the Exorcistas, among other popular street dances.
It has been influenced by La Vega Carnival and since the 1990s it has been enriched in the search for its own identity. The participants compete with their best costume and mask, giving life to another of the most attractive and visited carnivals.
San Pedro de Macorís
A carnival contamination is registered in the celebrations of the Guloyas, a form of street theater that comes from the culture of the “cocolos.” These are immigrants from the British Lesser Antilles (mainly Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis), who since the late 19th century arrived in the Dominican Republic as sugarcane and sugar mill workers of the flourishing sugar industry.
They come from the racial mix of former slaves brought from Africa and the British colonizers, and because of their dedication, serious work and desire for knowledge they have received the recognition of the local civil society, successfully integrating. Today, they maintain their original cultural identity solely in the enclaves of San Pedro de Macorís and La Romana (also progressively rarified, encompassed by modern times and generational changes).
The cocolos brought with them their music, dances, religion, gastronomy and singular popular dances derived from the mixture of African practices and British traditions, which joined the varied Dominican cultural diversity creating, among others, a unique folklore rite, the Guloyas.
They consist in street representations in which the music and all the movements and dance steps are purely African; however, when the dances are dramatized, the majority of the plots are based on biblical lessons or British legends. Previously, they were only presented during Christmas time; today they are mainly carried out in the framework of carnival celebrations and can also correspond with Dominican national and religious holidays.
The Guloyas wear eye-catching colorful costumes decorated with small mirrors and bells, in addition to a majestic hat that is several feet high made with peacock feathers. They also carry terrifying bull bladders of the Dominican carnival tradition and long whips.
The San Pedro de Macorís Goyulas Cocolo Dancing Theater Group was founded in the 1930s by Theophilus Chiverton – alias Primo – who arrived in San Pedro de Macorís from the island of Nevis in 1923. He was the pioneer in the teaching and interpretation of that folklore tradition, creating a group made up by four musicians and some 10-12 dancers.
He remained its leader – the king – dancing until his death at the age of 94. Some years later, on November 25, 2005, the Goyulas Cocolo Dancing Theater Group was declared by UNESCO a Master Work of Oral and Immaterial World Heritage.
The Puntacana Group will celebrate the seventh edition of the Punta Cana Carnival on Saturday March 8 along the Primero de Noviembre Boulevard as a charity performance for the Puntacana Foundation. The event will conclude with a concert in the Puntacana Village to dance until nightfall.
This year it will have the participation of international street dances from Guadeloupe, Haiti and Curacao. The national groups will come from Puerto Plata, La Vega, Cotuí, San Juan de la Maguana, Santo Domingo, Barahona, Cabral and Punta Cana, among others.
The first version of the “Carnaval Km36 Carretera Mella,” in the municipality of Boca Chica, will be carried out February 14-March 2 through the streets of this tourist town a few kilometers to the east of Santo Domingo.
The participation of more than 15 street dances and dozens of individual characters has been announced, as well as major artistic attractions. The carnival parade is carried out every Sunday starting at 2:00 p.m. The activities kick off on February 14 with a grand carnival parade that will mark the opening of the event.