SURREAL BARRIO DREAMS: CARNIVAL IN SANTO DOMINGO ESTE, D.R.

SOMEWAY, SOMEHOW, CARNIVAL WILL ALWAYS UPEND YOUR EXPECTATIONS. This was the case when we went down to the first weekend of the local carnival parade in Santo Domingo Este, the up-and-coming annex to the Capital. Santo Domingo Este is the newer, younger municipality that only shares a namesake with the Western Hemisphere’s oldest city. Let the Capital serve you the masterful floats flanked with celebrity musical guests and Broadway-level chorus lines. If you want to see the pulse, the dreams and the reality of the majority of the area’s youth, it’s bursting at the seams of every barrio in the East. Traditional bourgeoisie ideas of Hispanidad and nationalism that are still the bread and butter of the national media are eschewed in favor of the true messages found in the music: reggaeton, hip-hop and bachatas. WhatsApp postings rule the society life here, not the pages of Hola. So it should be no surprise that Santo Domingo Este’s Carnival proceedings have their ear close to the streets as well. All the barrios send out crews with their own iterations of the traditional carnival tropes and figures in hopes of winning thousands of pesos in prize money—from the unassuming and harmless (Indian processions and celebrations of the shacks and shantys of los barrios marginales), to lushly fantastical to the theatrical clash of ratchetry and political jibes.

The medicine woman of a barrio doing its best Indian processional entertains the rest of the crew. Los Indios are another archetype of Carnival in the DR, as the Taino Arawaks that originally inhabited the island are gone. Photo by José Germosen
The medicine woman of a barrio doing its best Indian processional entertains the rest of the crew. Los Indios are another archetype of Carnival in the DR, as the Taino Arawaks that originally inhabited the island are gone. Photo by José Germosen
A wee pair of Diablos Cajuelos (devils from the underworld) making some adjustments. Los Diablos Cajuelos are the most iconic symbol of carnival in the DR. The tradition started in the center of the country in Santiago, where the best costumes are still produced. They usually carry around seed-filled balloons, threatening to bop patrons behind the cow-gates. Sometimes they miss. Photo by José Germosen
A wee pair of Diablos Cajuelos (devils from the underworld) making some adjustments. Los Diablos Cajuelos are the most iconic symbol of carnival in the DR. The tradition started in the center of the country in Santiago, where the best costumes are still produced. They usually carry around seed-filled balloons, threatening to bop patrons behind the cow-gates. Sometimes they miss. Photo by José Germosen
Las Recicladoras, a group of entrants who have fashioned their processional costumes from plastic bottles. Photo by Juan Soto
Las Recicladoras, a group of entrants who have fashioned their processional costumes from plastic bottles. Photo by Juan Soto
House Party: The children of La Vieja Barquita, a barrio in the process of having its shanty of tin-roofed shacks replaced by apartment buildings. Photo by Juan Soto
House Party: The children of La Vieja Barquita, a barrio in the process of having its shanty of tin-roofed shacks replaced by apartment buildings. Photo by Juan Soto
The amazing float from La Vieja Barquita's procession, which features a replica of a tin-roofed home, replete with a woman doing the day's wash. Photo by Juan Soto
The amazing float from La Vieja Barquita’s procession, which features a replica of a tin-roofed home, replete with a woman doing the day’s wash. Photo by Juan Soto
The Angel of Death, another of the traditional Carnival pantheon, in all his glory. Photo by Juan Soto
The Angel of Death, another of the traditional Carnival pantheon, in all his glory. Photo by Juan Soto
Time is Money: The choreographer of the Kings' procession gets flustered with his crews attempts at a hyper-fast dance routine. There's a contest to win. Photo by José Germosen
Time is Money: The choreographer of the Kings’ procession gets flustered with his crews attempts at a hyper-fast dance routine. There’s a contest to win. Photo by José Germosen
Shake and bake: The members of this procession employ choreography to make up for the lack of costumes. They're representing the schoolyard. Photo by José Germosen
Shake and bake: The members of this procession employ choreography to make up for the lack of costumes. They’re representing the schoolyard. Photo by José Germosen
Beautiful costumes in the procession of Hechizo Africano (African Witchcraft). Notice the hand-made sandals. Photo by Juan Soto
Beautiful costumes in the procession of Hechizo Africano (African Witchcraft). Notice the hand-made sandals. Photo by Juan Soto
Fiery red plumes from Hechizo Africano's procession. Photo by Juan Soto
Fiery red plumes from Hechizo Africano’s procession. Photo by Juan Soto
The women of Hechizo Africano. The presentation of African-themed processions is another time-honored archetype of Dominican carnival—carnival in general. It was nice to see this crew present a thrillingly opulent approach to their take. Photo by Juan Soto
The women of Hechizo Africano. The presentation of African-themed processions is another time-honored archetype of Dominican carnival—carnival in general. It was nice to see this crew present a thrillingly opulent approach to their take. Photo by Juan Soto
More from Hechizo Africano. Photo by Juan Soto
More from Hechizo Africano. Photo by Juan Soto
Photo by Juan Soto
Photo by Juan Soto
A step crew does some floor work to herald the arrival of a new school archetype pretty specific to Carnival in Santo Domingo Este: Los Viajeros. Photo by Juan Soto
A step crew does some floor work to herald the arrival of a new school archetype pretty specific to Carnival in Santo Domingo Este: Los Viajeros. Photo by Juan Soto
Homecoming King: El Viajero, hair freshly pressed and blown, bedecked in white and only gold chains (his medallion features a portrait of Duarte, the country's founder) and wads of dollar bills fresh from his travails abroad that he showers upon his pueblo. They're not demons or natives, but the viajero has a mythical status all his own. How did he amass that fortune? Are the streets overseas really paved with gold? Or maybe just snow? Photo by Juan Soto
Homecoming King: El Viajero, hair freshly pressed and blown, bedecked in white and only gold chains (his medallion features a portrait of Duarte, the country’s founder) and wads of dollar bills fresh from his travails abroad that he showers upon his pueblo. They’re not demons or natives, but the viajero has a mythical status all his own. How did he amass that fortune? Are the streets overseas really paved with gold? Or maybe just snow? Photo by Juan Soto
WTF? You're not hallucinating: It is a bunch of black young men doing a line-for-line reenactment of a Nazi march, replete with concentration camp prisoners in tow. What was the impetus? Who knows? Could it have been repeat viewings of Nicki Minaj's "Only" video? Could the streets of Katanga, one of Santo Domingo Este's roughest neighborhoods, have provided inspiration for the dour tone? Perhaps it was a commentary on aggression against Haitian immigrants?
WTF? You’re not hallucinating: It is a bunch of black young men doing a line-for-line reenactment of a Nazi march, replete with concentration camp prisoners in tow. What was the impetus? Who knows? Could it have been repeat viewings of Nicki Minaj’s “Only” video? Could the streets of Katanga, one of Santo Domingo Este’s roughest neighborhoods, have provided inspiration for the dour tone? Perhaps it was a commentary on aggression against Haitian immigrants?
The concentration camp prisoners in detail from the Katanga procession. Photos by Juan Soto
The concentration camp prisoners in detail from the Katanga procession. Photos by Juan Soto
Katanga's processional. Photo by Juan Soto
Katanga’s processional. Photo by Juan Soto
More from the bizarre procession from Katanga. Photo by Juan Soto
More from the bizarre procession from Katanga. Photo by Juan Soto

Keep checking the blog for more posts from Carnival in the D.R. February 27th kicks off the final presentation in the Capital, celebrating Dominican Independence. —José

Photo by Juan Soto
Photo by Juan Soto
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