There are many different names used as well as the ways in which the Carnival participants present themselves here in República Dominicana. The costumes are each different and represent the communities and regions from which they come. These elaborate masks, mainly the Diablos, are made in secret in little out of the way, hidden places where one would never imagine that there was a work of art being created there. These costumes are highly guarded, as they want all to be a surprise and not want their secret out until Carnaval time has arrived. Also, there is much money and notoriety to be won by having the best costumes.
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 (paper mache). The masks are shined, painted and decorated. The inside is lined with foam fashioned to fit the wearers face. Recently the mask making process has changed a little. Many of the masks now are being made with plastic replacing the paper. When the mold is ready they are using fiberglass, rubber and silicone. This makes the making of the mask faster and they are more resistant to sweat and weather.
I have some of the names of the masks and troupes I have located. There is so much variety and character descriptions I hope I got the information correct. Different people I ask and different sources I have read all have a little different information. At least you will get the general idea of how diverse, original and creative all these costumes and their creators really are.
Some of the most famous of all these masked demons are the Diablo Cojuelos/ Devil who walks with a limp.(from La Vega) This devil, as the story is told, was a demon banished to Earth because of his clownish pranks. When he fell to earth he hurt his leg and from now on always walks with a limp. These evil looking creatures are multi-horned, sharp toothed beings. They always have very elaborate masks.
Many of the regions have varying versions of this horrific devil. Some wear the mask atop their heads making it almost seem as if they have two faces. They all wear costumes that are brightly decorated with variations on the embellishments and mask styles. Some costumes are covered with bells, dolls or stuffed animals. These costumes are layered with ruffles or all types of fancy vibrant decorations. Some have ruffles that cover the entire back of their heads. Their walk, supposedly limping, really looks to me like frenzied dancing and jumping. How they get all that energy wearing those hot costumes is beyond me.
Lechones/ Pork Eaters (from Santiago) are traditional Carnival characters. They have elaborate galactic designed satin and taffeta costumes decorated with mirrors, beads and bells. They wear papier maché masks with a duck-like bill, big horns and carry a whip. Some of the masks resemble pigs. They aren’t scary because of their tall horns, but rather have a curved, long snout. There are hundreds of participating lechones groups–with variances in their masks and costumes to denote their neighborhood.
The two most popular are Los Pepines, with tall, pointed snouts but smooth horns, and Los Joyeros, with masks that are spiked with numerous thorns. Their clothing is similar, and consists of a long-sleeved shirt and pants made of silk, adorned with sequins, beads, and mirrors, and fitted with a wide belt.
Santiago’s devils open up the parade as they were originally considered the guardians of carnival or vejigantes, warding off the crowds and keeping order in the streets.
Fear of the lechones is due to their signature fouet or sisal rope, which they swing mercilessly up in the air at high velocity above their heads, before it hits the ground with a loud bang. You will shudder at the sound of the air whistling above you. You don’t want to be within its range–remain behind the sidewalk barricades for safety. They also carry a vejiga in the other hand to swing at participants’ rear ends if they are in their way. Between cracking whips and hitting bottoms, the lechones dance a style of African dance, swinging their legs side to side and lunging forward.
Nicolás Den Den (from Santiago) is a fat, dirty, dancing bear chained to his human master. His comedic antics make the children laugh. The same costumed characters in Montecristi is called el Oso Nicolás.
Los Platanuses (from Cibao) are covered in plantain leaves, wear painted gourd masks and carry the whip.
Trapuses/ Rag (from Bonao) wear long colorful rag strips that are woven together and have a mask of the same material or just paint their faces.
Papelus/ Paper (from Cibao) and El Papelón/ Newspaper print (from Salcedo) wear costumes made of shredded paper (newspapers, colored crepe paper, shopping bags) or colored plastic bags with gourd masks and carry vejigas/ the inflated bladder weapons or látigos/ whips
Se me Muere Rebeca (Salcedo) - Represents a desperate mother who wants to keep her daughter who was seriously ill happy. Walking and screaming she stops and asks for treats for her ill daughter who is represented by the doll she carries. She is usually followed by groups of children.
Los Alí Babá. These costumes and dance represent Eastern presence with an Arabian flair.
Los monos de Simonico/ The Monkeys (from Villa Duarte)
Máscaras del diablo (from Elías Piña) - These devil masks are adorned with red ribbon. These mask wearers traditionally do not speak. It is said if you find the identity of the person wearing the mask you will drop dead on the spot.
Macarao/ Big Mask (from Hermanas Mirabal/ Salcedo and Bonao) wear big devil masks that have large mean teeth representing different kinds of animals. Their clothing is made of crepe paper streamers.
Pepines (from Santiago) wear masks with horns with short points covering them
El Hombre en Zancos/ The Man on Stilts (from San Cristobal) Have hugh costumes either high above their heads or they are walking on stilts.
Taimácaros (from Puerto Plata) are diablos wearing a mask that covers the entire body representing a Taino god or an ancient Spaniard, with a colorful shell covered belt at their waist. made of the words Taíno and “mask.” A group of young men from Puerto Plata created this identity in 199 to help uplift the community spirit while reinforcing the trio of cultures that represent them as Dominicans: Taíno, African, and European. To date, there are about thirteen active tribes forming the Taimáscaros group. Within that group, the most popular are Tribu Yucahu, who have won multiple awards over the years for their ingenuity in costume and dance, including the highest national Carnival prize. The Taimáscaros’ masks reflect the face of a Taíno god or deity, while the costumes incorporate their other heritage.
Las Cachúas (from Barahona) has small spikes covering their devil mask many fashioned after the local creatures. They are inspired from the days of Maroon resistance in the mountains of Barahona The mask is covered with long, flowing, colored paper representing hair with their costumes having the bat looking wings, unique patterns and capes. These creatures jump around in the street and have whip cracking battles. The louder the crack the better. They are mostly known to participate in the Carnaval Cimarrón or Maroon Carnival, spanning three days at the end of Holy Week. It’s the last of all the carnivals to be celebrated in the country, as it’s held during Easter. They wear a mask made out of vibrant papier mâché, as they roam all weekend with whips starting at midnight on Holy Saturday. It all ends with a big, loud folkloric ceremony on Monday after Holy Week, when they burn Judas in effigy in the village cemetery.
Los Indios/ The Indians (from Santiago) dress to look like he Taino Indians and act out different scenes.The Taíno were the first inhabitants of the Dominican Republic who were exterminated by the Spaniards through disease and murder. Adults and children dress up in grass skirts and feathers, bodies smeared in brown paint, torsos bare for the men. They carry bows and spears
Los Pirulíes (from Cabral Baraona) - These are children dressed as Indians with a skirt made of coconut leaves.
Muerte con su Perplegía/ Death in all its Perplexity
Culebra y las Siete Pecados/ The Snake and the Seven Sins
El Doctor/ The Doctor (from San Cristobal) wears glasses made of wire and dried orange skins, running throughout the crowd looking for women to cure. There are also entire medical crews acting out different scenarios.
El Jinchaíto is the main person of carnaval in Moca They also have their other characters including Los Chacales, Los Búhos/ The Owls, Los Cibernéticos, Los Indeseables/ The Undesirable Ones, Los Coyotes/ The Cyotes, Los Diablos Azules/ The Blue Devils, Los Dragones/ The Dragons are among the most popular in this region.
Los Brujos/ The Witches. Sometimes these characters can be quite frightening. The one pictured on the left blew fire out of his mouth. It was believed that there once were witches living in the southwestern city of San Juan de La Managua. Witchcraft was a common practice, hence the name of one of the Carnival troupes from this region
Los Galleros This is a small play acted out in the streets between two farmers holding their roosters. They decide to fight their roosters in the middle of the street. While they are engaging in the fight the police arrive to stop the fight and arrest the men. This is one of the many play acting shows that occur during Carnival.
Roba la Gallina/ Chicken Robber (from San Cristobal and Salcedo) These fun characters are dressed in brightly colored dresses, with a huge butt and breasts, carrying an old umbrella and a big purse. This character hits all the Colmados begging for food and drink that he-she shares with the crowd representing its chicks. It is thought to come from the old tradition of tar and feathering a person that stole a chicken and making them walk through the streets. This bazaar person yells out silly rhymes (ti-ti, manatí, ton-ton, molondrón, roba la gallina, palo con ella) while he begs for food. This is a very popular Carnival character.
Guloyas (San Pedro de Macoris) dress in bright colors with long strips of cloth in red and yellow. The suit is decorated with mirrors. They dance around to the music of la flauta/ the flute, el cencerro/ bells la tambora/ drum.A unique Afro-Caribbean group in the Dominican Republic are the Cocolos: the descendants of enslaved Africans who were brought to the DR in the late 19th century from the British islands of the Caribbean. Approximately 6,000 originally came from Anguilla, Barbados, St. Kitts, Nevis, Tortola, Turks and Caicos, and St. Croix, among other places, to work in the DR’s sugar industry. Dominicans first gave them the name Tortolo—assumed to have derived from Tortola in the BVIs—which later evolved into Cocolos. Their dancers, known as the Guloyas, participate in the Carnival and wear gorgeous, beaded costumes with feathery hats. They dance to their own drums and twirl happily in the streets in their unique Afro-Caribbean moves. UNESCO classified the Guloyas in 2005 as a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Los Travestis/ The Transvestites are men dressing up as women that is to signify their machismo-ness. They are always a crowd favotire. (remember much of Carnival is opposites or the upside down world).
Califé is a social and cultural poet. He makes verses that make jest and comically criticizes the government and political figures. He wears black and white with a big black hat.
La Muerte en Yipe/ Death in a Jeep (Hermanas Miribal/ Salcedo) is a skeleton and skull costumed death figure that has wounds dripping with blood. The name comes from the days when the Death characters used to climb up on the backs of the jeeps that towed the floats during the carnival parades. They hold a scythe.
The Civiles/ Civilians (from Montecristi) fight the Toros/ Bulls with loud cracking whips known as látigos. El Toro wears a dotted, flat animal mask and a thick padded costume to protect against the wrath of Los Civiles who crack their large whips that they use to fight the bull. These characters have mock battles that are not mock when the whip hits you! The bull will be the victor in the upside down world of Carnival.
Las Marimantas (from Yerba Buena) - They cover their bodies in tree branches. Their heads are covered with a shell and the masks are made of cow leather.
Los Tiznaos/ The Stained One paint themselves with old motor oil that makes them a nasty shiny black. They run through the crowds accepting money so that they will not hug you.
Africanos use charcoal to blacken their flesh and wear loin cloths sometimes made from plantain leaves and do not wear shoes. They also carry a spear. Some wear afro wigs, paint their faces the color of the flag or wear gourd masks, all depending on what the character wants to do.
Los Pintaos of Barahona Some of the comparsas or carnival groups have more recent origins yet carry great cultural significance. The southwest town of Barahona is known for Los Pintaos–the painted–a group created in 1997 by Francisco Suero Medina, locally known as El Gato. They made their debut in the national parade in 2000, and in 2008 were awarded the highest Carnival award granted by the Ministry of Culture: the Premio Nacional de Carnaval Felipe Abreu. The Pintaos represent the Maroons, who rebelled against Spanish colonialism and slavery and took refuge in the mountains of Bahoruco, southwest of the DR, in the early 16th century. Their costume is the intricate paint that covers their naked body, save for a piece of cloth covering their private parts. They dance in the street, sometimes holding sticks, and spread their joy and rebellious nature to the crowds, celebrating the Maroon heritage. They’re unmistakable at Carnival and are a cultural icon of Barahona.
La Vega’s Diablo Cojuelo Dating back to the 1500s, Carnaval de La Vega or Carnaval Vegano is the biggest, most vibrant carnival celebration in the Dominican Republic. Its principal character, the diablo cojuelo or limping devil, is instantly recognized because of the exaggerated mask features, with protruding eyes and teeth.
Dressed in a cloak, shiny shirt and broad trousers covered with bells, mirrors, and ribbons–all meant as a mockery of the Spanish medieval knights–the devils scare the crowd away with their giant masks and their whips. Each group of these limping devils from La Vega design and handcraft their masks every year, months ahead of Carnival, and hidden from the competitors.
Carnaval de La Vega is also one of the most commercially sponsored carnivals in the country. Masks have evolved over recent years to become more oriental and baroque in their features, which many criticize. But they still impress with their larger-than-life costumes as crowds spill all over the streets for one big, small-town party.
The Vejiga: The Devil’s Weapon A defining characteristic across the country’s Carnivals is the devils’ use of vejigas, inflicting pain on anyone in their path. These aren’t your regular whips: they are made of a cow’s dried, inflated bladder, cured with lemon, ashes, and salt. They are so hard to the touch that anyone who receives a vejigazo on their buttocks may be bruised for weeks. Watch your behind! The sisal rope seen in this image is used by Santiago’s devils as an additional weapon; the Cachúas from Cabral also use their own version of a fouet.
La Vega’s Carnaval de La Boa Held in the morning, prior to the main La Vega Carnival a couple of streets away, is the less publicized Carnaval de La Boa. This is a traditional version of how Carnival used to be celebrated in La Vega 50 years ago–with simpler costumed devils with whips, who dance, leap, and pose with children. It stretches just one block, but is a popular pick for families.
These numerous carnival dance troupes bring a lot of life and fun to Carnival. Each has its theme–often a dramatic, comical representation of political, social, or religious issues. While there’s no record of how far back the carnival troupes have existed, they are thought to have come from Cuban influences, during their migration to the DR in the late 19th century. The above is a member of the Comparsas Zoomorfas.
Other groups to look out for at Carnival Dominicano are the Platanuses from Cotui, whose devils cover themselves in plantain leaves, the Toros from Montecristi, with masks representing bulls, and the Travestis (the Transvestites), who are crowd favorites.