THE HIT SQUAD: GETTING YOUR LICKS AT CARNAVAL IN LA VEGA, D.R.

CARNAVAL IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC CAN BE A REAL PAIN IN THE REAR. If you’re unlucky enough to be swatted on the behind with the heavy smack of a vejiga, you will literally feel it. The vejiga is as much an integral part of Dominican Carnaval as are lustrous feathers, bright wigs and rhinestones. This hard football-like object is a vestige of Carnaval’s roots in slavery and the colonization of the island by the Spaniards. In the 1500s, when the very first Carnavals were held in La Vega, a small, ancient town in one of the country’s lushest valleys, African slaves employed the vejiga as playful and impactful retribution against their masters’ whips. Carnaval was promoted by plantation owners as a way to free up tension with a grand party in which all social tables were turned. Slaves got to play master and conquerer, and the vejiga was their not-so-playful weapon: tough pig-skin sewn together and stuffed with seed or rock and tethered on a stick. Today, they might be made rubber or pliant plastic. They still hurt like hell. All around the world, Carnival is about the switching roles, but Dominican Carnaval has some aggressive traditions that stem from its brutal beginnings. The ancient battle between white Christians of the Medieval Crusades and black Moors was played out in costume, ribald song and heavy drinking. Men dressed as women, black painted up as white, and the colonizers were depicted as demons or shining knights, albeit with demonic faces. In some cities in the country, like Montecristi in the far northwest by the Haitian border, the Carnaval clubs dress as opposing sides and literally fight in the streets throughout the festivities, whips and all. Nowadays, Carnaval can take on a number of styles depending on the city (if you read my post on Santo Domingo Este’s post-modern version of Carnaval, you’ll know what I mean). Santo Domingo’s national Carnaval happening this Sunday, February 28th (The weekend of Dominican Independence Day, on Friday, February 27th) is like a greatest hits of every city’s tradition. The true essence of Dominican Carnaval and its historical roots is found here in La Vega. It’s a beautiful display of great costumes and inspired—yet painful—partying.

Feathers of one knightly character overwhelm an onlooker. Photo by José Germsén
Feathers of one knightly character overwhelm an onlooker. Photo by José Germsén
A feathered queen. Photo by José Germosén
A feathered queen. Photo by José Germosén
A sparkly Indian (another common character that recalls the long-extinct Tainos of the island). Photo by José Germosén
A sparkly Indian (another common character that recalls the long-extinct Tainos of the island). Photo by José Germosén
A traditional travestí (transvestite) looks out to the crowd. Although in more elaborate carnivals (like in the Capital and other countries), well-known trans women performers in burlesque costumes have taken the place of the travestís, in DR they often use their schtick to make light of notorious stereotypes of women in the country. La Chapiadora (the ubiquitous Dominican Golddigging female) is a popular character to enact. Photo by José Germosén
A traditional travestí (transvestite) looks out to the crowd. Although in more elaborate carnivals (like in the Capital and other countries), well-known trans women performers in burlesque costumes have taken the place of the travestís, in DR they often use their schtick to make light of notorious stereotypes of women in the country. La Chapiadora (the ubiquitous Dominican Golddigging female) is a popular character to enact. Photo by José Germosén
Photo by José Germosén
Photo by José Germosén
Some truly frightening killer clowns. Forget about the vejigas, those mugs are scary enough. Photo by José Germosen
Some truly frightening killer clowns. Forget about the vejigas, those mugs are scary enough. Photo by José Germosen
Photo by José Germosén
Photo by José Germosén
Photo by José Germosén
Photo by José Germosén
Is that a...blunt? Photo by José Germosén
Is that a…blunt? Photo by José Germosén
Yeah, I just may be a blunt. Photo by José Germosén
Yeah, it just may be a blunt. Photo by José Germosén
This travestí sitting comfortably in Satan's arms could be playing the role of any number of sinister female seductresses—she might be the raven-haired La Ciguapa, a demon temptress, or another example of a modern-day Chapiadora (Golddigger) with bad intentions and signature sunglasses. Photo by José Germosén
This travestí sitting comfortably in Satan’s arms could be playing the role of any number of sinister female seductresses—she might be the raven-haired La Ciguapa, a demon temptress, or another example of a modern-day Chapiadora (Golddigger) with bad intentions and signature sunglasses. Photo by José Germosén
Photo by José Germosén
Photo by José Germosén
La Vega's premiere club exits the traditional "cave" of Vegan Carnaval. They represent the official face of Los Diablos Cajuelos in La Vega. Lucky club members get to pre-game to blaring merengue inside the cave alongside Los Diablos before they make their ascent onto Avenida España.
La Vega’s premiere club exits the traditional “cave” of Vegan Carnaval. They represent the official face of Los Diablos Cajuelos in La Vega. Lucky club members get to pre-game to blaring merengue inside the cave alongside Los Diablos before they make their ascent onto Avenida España.
Roba La Gallina, one of the classic characters of Carnaval throughout the country, is a woman (or man) dressed in finery going around town stealing chickens, only to artfully stuff them up her dress. The character can be played or comedy or resplendently rendered in elaborate interpretations of the look, all depending on the person playing the role. Photo by José Germosén
Roba La Gallina, one of the classic characters of Carnaval throughout the country, is a woman (or man) dressed in finery going around town stealing chickens, only to artfully stuff them up her dress. The character can be played or comedy or resplendently rendered in elaborate interpretations of the look, all depending on the person playing the role. Photo by José Germosén
That vejiga is heavy and swift. Photo by José Germosén
That vejiga is heavy and swift. Photo by José Germosén
Nothing tenses you up more than the thought of being punched firmly in the ass with a vejigaso. Fun, but not fun. Photo by José Germosén
Nothing tenses you up more than the thought of being punched firmly in the ass with a vejigaso. Fun, but not fun. Photo by José Germosén
A patron in the crowd negotiates his way out of a vejigaso. Photo by José Germosén
A patron in the crowd negotiates his way out of a vejigaso. Photo by José Germosén
"!MOMENTICO, POR FAVOR!" ("Just give me a minute, PLEASE!") says the young lady on the left to the aspiring diablo on the right, looking to peg her with his vejiga. Butt bruises as you're walking to meet your crew? No, thank you, lol. Photo by José Germosén
“!MOMENTICO, POR FAVOR!” (“Just give me a minute, PLEASE!”) says the young lady on the left to the aspiring diablo on the right, looking to peg her with his vejiga. Butt bruises as you’re walking to meet your crew? No, thank you, lol. Photo by José Germosén
Another vejigaso attempt thwarted. lol Photo by José Germosén
Another vejigaso attempt thwarted. lol Photo by José Germosén
When costumed creatures from every direction are swinging heavy bags trying to smack your ass for half the day, you might be a little over it. This dude decided to give one of the masked men a taste of his own medicine. Photo by José Germosén
When costumed creatures from every direction are swinging heavy bags trying to smack your ass for half the day, you might be a little over it. This dude decided to give one of the masked men a taste of his own medicine. Photo by José Germosén
A diablo looking to gift someone with a vejigaso! Photo by José Germosén
A diablo looking to gift someone with a vejigaso! Photo by José Germosén
The crowd jubilantly cheers on a female diabla cajuela armed with her vejiga. Photo by José Germosén
The crowd jubilantly cheers on a female diabla cajuela armed with her vejiga. Photo by José Germosén
Los Diablos Cajuelos. Photo by José Germosén
Los Diablos Cajuelos. Photo by José Germosén
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