Like many other places in Latin America, the Dominican Republic goes all out to celebrate Carnival, held during the time leading up to Lent. Unlike Carnaval Miami or el Carnaval de Barranquilla, Dominican carnival, however, lasts through the whole month of February, and can even roll over into March and Holy Week or Semana Santa!
Carnaval Dominicano has been held for over 400 years; in fact, the Dominican Republic may have been the first place in the Americas where it was celebrated. It had become a significant annual event by the late 1700s.
Origins of the Dominican Carnival
On February 27, 1844, the Dominican Republic gained its independence. In the years since, the proximity of Lent to the Dominican Independence Day have led the two holidays to become intertwined, turning the entire month of February into a national time of celebration.
Given its long history, it is not surprising that Dominican carnival is one of the most vibrant celebrations of this holiday in Hispanic culture.
Full costumed parades, masked folk characters, colorful dance groups, musicians, and community costume parties characterize the festivities.
Characters of the Dominican Carnival
As in many countries in Latin America, characters from myths and legends also play a big part in the celebrations. Each region has its own variations and unique figures.
For example: Califé, who represents the people by commenting on the establishment and the government through poetry; Los indios, dressed in Taino clothing and representing the origins of the native Dominican people; and La Ciguapa, a naked female with backwards feet who tempts men.
Given the different cultures that make up the Dominican Republic, you could also see Los Ali Babas who dance in the street, Los Africanos representing African slaves, and even La muerte en Jeep or Death in a Jeep, a skeleton escort to the most significant character in the festivities: the diablo cojuelo or the limping devil.
The diablos cojuelos are colorful, fanciful characters that wander around Carnival, terrorizing those in attendance. Flamboyant and ornate, they are perhaps the best-known symbol of Dominican carnival.
The caped costumes originally parodied the clothing of a rich colonial gentleman but have since incorporated decorative elements such as mirrors, bells, and noisemakers.
The masked characters carry whips to hit other devils, and a blown-up vejiga -animal bladder, with which they hit passers-by.
Legend says that this “devil” was mischievous and was actually thrown to earth by the Devil himself, who got sick of his pranks. When he fell, his leg was hurt – hence the name. In Santiago, he is known as “El Lechón.”
As one of the most exciting, memorable Hispanic holidays, Dominican carnival is a major tourist attraction. Parades are held every Sunday of the month in different cities, and every town celebrates these parades differently, with La Vega and Santiago having some of the most unique festivities.
The city of Santo Domingo holds the National Carnival Parade, usually on the last Sunday in February or the first Sunday in March. This major event can have over 50,000 participants and over half a million visitors. But even if you can’t make it to the national parade, the whole country has celebrations that you are sure to enjoy.