domincan carnival costume

Carnaval de La Vega Brings Out The Devils

It’s Shrove Tuesday today also known as Pancake Day or Fat Tuesday.  Traditionally it was the day you used up all your rich food ingredients (butter, eggs etc.) before you started fasting for the season of Lent in the Christian calendar.  We are in France so in lieu of pancakes we had crepes. The crepes were delicious and I wolfed mine down before I took any photos.  Sorry, needs must.

I’ve been seeing photos of all the different carnival festivities in the world which too are a pre-Lenten tradition.  At a travel show last month, I met representatives from the Dominican Republic who told us about the Carnavale de La Vega which is the most popular Dominican carnival.

Unlike the pretty costumes that you traditionally associate with carnival, the Carnaval de La Vega outfits appeared sparkly but scary. This mask represents the main character of Carnaval, the Diablo Cojuelo (limping devil).  He was thrown down to Earth and hurt his foot when he landed.

Carnival de la vega costume

Some say that the mask’s features represent the Spaniards (big mouths, long noses) who were considered devil-like because they enslaved the natives and the Africans.  The masks are typically oversized and have huge horns.  They were originally brought over from Spain and then customised by the African slaves.

Living Devil
Image: Fer Fegheras

The Limping Devil also carries a vejiga or “bladder” (nowadays made out of synthetics) filled with air which he would hit people with in order to strike out the bad in them. The enthusiastic whipping has got so bad that the authorities have put down rules.  You can get hit only on the backside and if you are in the parade, not watching from the sidewalk.  I wonder how much the rules get obeyed in the chaos of a carnival!

little Devil
This little devil’s vejiga is almost as big as him!
Image: Karen

The first Dominican Carnival goes back to the 16th century.  The Spanish would let their slaves have some fun for a day.  The Spanish, however, were very religious and needed the festival to have some sort of religious significance so it became a battle of good versus evil (the devil).  There is also a story that the early carnivals depicted the battle between the Moors and the Spanish.

domincan carnival costume

The Carnavale de la Vega occurs every weekend in February in the town.  It also coincides with the festivities for the Dominican Republic’s independence from Haiti which is celebrated on February 27 each year.  The Dominican carnivals are supposed to be the first ones celebrated in the New World (even predating the more famous ones in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro).

Dominican Carnival costume
Image: Angel Ramos G

La Vega is the third biggest city in the Dominican Republic with a long history dating back to the time of Christopher Columbus who built a fort nearby.  The fort was needed to protect the gold being mined nearby and taken from the island to Spain.  Eventually a settlement developed around the fort.

I would love to visit the Dominican Republic and especially check out the amazing Carnival de La Vega.  I’m pretty sure my kids would be pretty dangerous with a vejiga as well!

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Shobha

I am an American expat based in London with my travel-loving family. I write at Just Go Places Blog about luxury, cultural and family travel.

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