Although some towns celebrate it during March, Holy Week, and August, the Carnival in the Dominican Republic is celebrated throughout the entire month of February. The festival usually climaxes around February 27th, which is the Dominican Independence Day. In Santo Domingo, this primarily involves a large display of military power (including the Dominican air force, navy, and other armed forces). This carnival is distinguished by its colorful costumes; these costumes symbolize many religious and traditional characters such as Calife, Guloya, or the famous Diablo Cojuelo. It is celebrated in most of the island, each town adding its own twist or creating their own characters and groups. Since many of the groups are created by families, companies, and friends, it is enjoyed by the young and old throughout the country.
The Christians would let their slaves have some diversion so that they got the “wild” out of their system, but also the slave owners would enjoy the festivities. Since Christians considered this a “pagan” celebration they added their own inflections because they wanted to enjoy it.
Carnival has been celebrated in the Dominican Republic since the mid-1500s. Evidence of this has been found in the ruins of La Vega Vieja (near the present day La Vega) showing that celebrations were held here before they were celebrated in Santo Domingo. The celebration consisted that the resident dressed themselves as Moors and Christians.
Though it is not known for certain, it is thought that the colony of Santo Domingo was the first place in the Americas to show a pre-Lenten costume. The celebration became a way to escape from the rigid religious traditions. By the late 1700s the carnival became a major celebration in the colony. Then in February 27, 1844 when the Dominican Republic won its independence from Haiti the celebration gained a bigger splendor, because the Dominicans were celebrating their independence. This combination made February a very festive month in the Dominican Republic.
The list of characters included during the celebration is immense, but there are some characters that are seen throughout the countries during the festivities. Such as:
Diablo Cojuelo (Limping Devil)
It is the main character during the carnival. A story says that this devil was banished to earth because of his childish pranks. When he hit the earth he hurt his leg. Most of the towns and cities in the country have their own version of it, but it has some country-wide characteristics such as the use of a mask, showy suits of satin, sleighbells, a “Vejiga” which is an animal bladder filled with air which is used to hit people in the streets or a whip (to hit other “Diablos”).
- Myth: The mask as a myth is told that this resembles the Spaniards when they came into the island. The mask shows big mouths, long noses and horns, which some might say resembled the Spaniards facial features. And the devil-like look, resembled the Spaniards when they came and enslaved and killed the natives. This was considered a devilish act (not a god-like act) hence the whip the Cojuelo carries, which resembled the whips that the Spaniard masters had to whip the slaves.
Roba la Gallina (Steal the Chicken)
It is a satire of the way that some people used to steal chickens from farms, that consisted of a man dressing up in a dress and then using the chickens as their cleavage and hips. In the carnival the chickens are substituted with pillows or sacks.
It is a character that shouts poetry during the festivities making complaints about situations and government officials, portraying the people’s voice.
Se me muere Rebeca (Rebeca is dying)
It is a woman that portrays another woman from a low social class that has an ill daughter (Rebeca), who can’t pay for medicine, and goes out to the street to shout about it hysterically.
Is a female character who comes around at night. She is naked with very long black hair, and her feet are backwards. She enchants the men she comes across.
Los Indios (The Indians)
They are a group of men and women dressed in the typical native Taino Indian attire. They travel together showcasing Dominican origins.
There are many more but those are some of the most used around the country, it is important to say that every town has their own variations of these and some original characters.