Lifestyle, Ludotheque, Tourism

A Dominican carnival: imagination, colour, aromas and history fill the streets.

It begins in February and continues until May, with different faces depending on the cities, but with the same contagious music and dazzling costumes, in a tradition restored over time.

Elsy Fors

If there have been masks in the city of Santo Domingo since the sixteenth century, it is certain that the colonial tradition grew with the republican feats of the 27th February 1844 and the 16th August 1865, to the point that nearly ever since then the carnivals have been celebrated on these dates, regardless of whether they fall outside Lent – a period of Christian penance – or not, which is usually the case.

With the hope that tourists and nationals can enjoy the popular festival in all regions of the country, the festivities this year begin on the 19th February in Rio San Juan and will run until the 6th May in Navarrete, in the Province of Santiago de los Caballeros, two weeks before the general elections.

Many communities like Cabral in Barahona and Guerra in the Province of Santo Domingo will make the most of the Semana Santa holiday, by holding their own parties on Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday (on the 6th and 7th April.

For the alcohol industry, as well as restaurants, hotels and nightspots, sales are high during this period, whilst for the poorest of people it provides moments to forget their hardships and to enjoy making fun of corrupt politicians’ defects and society in general.

The characters

From ‘Limping Devil’ costumes, which originate from medieval Europe and are covered in mirrors, bells and cowbells and ridicule the medieval lords, to platanuses and other typically African outfits,  people express their creativity.

Roba la Gallina is a character in disguise, (typically with a sizeable bust and rear) that goes through bars and shops asking for chicks, which are no more than the towns’ youths who follow in jubilant procession.

The califé is a poet who, in verse, humorously criticizes all personalities in political, social, and cultural life; he dresses in top coat and tails, a black hat and a white shirt and is followed by a choir.

“Se me muere Rebeca”represents a desperate woman who wants to bring food to her seriously ill daughter. She cries all the way, suddenly stops, and tutors the child (represented by a doll), whilst a choir responds to her. She asks various establishments for sweets for the ill child, but she then in fact shares them out amongst the children, who persistently follow her.

The Africans are characters painted black with coal and oil from cars, and groups of men and women imitate the black slaves, dancing through the streets as a feature of the carnival. Others smear themselves with mud and are known as the mud men, also moving to the beat of the music.

Other characters include the Indians, involving adults and children, imitating the island’s original inhabitants, with feathers, arches and spears. The group, whosmembers dress as natives, is called the Group from San Carlos – a popular town in Santo Domingo.

Death, common in many other carnivals, is represented by a skull, which traditionally accompanies the devils and is known as the Death in Jeep.

There is also Nicolas Den Den in Santiago de los Caballeros and Bear Nicolas in Montecristi who is a bear accompanied by a tamer who dances and entertains the crowds.

The Somonico Monkeys, native to Villa Duarte in Santo Domingo, is a group dressed up as monkeys with fringed outfits.

The ‘lollipops’ are children dressed in skirts with coconut fringing and are native to Cabral, Barahona.

The Ali Babas are groups with oriental influences, with synchronized choreography to the rhythm of snare and bass drums: a marked influence of the ‘cocolos’ (a previous ethnic immigrant group from Antillas Mayores and the Bahamas) from San Pedro Macoris.

And then there are the Marimantas, native to the province of Hato Mayor, who cover their bodies with green branches and a mask made of cow leather, covering their heads with a shell that provides refuge for termites.

There is also the doctor, the cunning and cheerful transvestites who are men dressed as women, and the Empapelao – which isn’t the same as the Papelón – who shouts “Can you burn my Papelon?” moving his button provocatively, whilst another character tries to burn it.

And finally there come the cockfighters who are typically country folk, with cocks that are thrown into a public street to fight. In the middle of the fight, a policeman arrives, breaks up the game and tries to take them as prisoners.

(Translated by Eleanor Gooch – Email: email:

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