The Dominican Republic’s Carnival is celebrated every year during the entire month of February, culminating with the largest celebration on Independence Day, February 27. The Dominican’s cultural identity and creativity are on display throughout this vibrant month.The festivities in the Dominican Republic can be traced back to the 1500s, in the ruins of a town called La Vega, even before it was celebrated in the capital city of Santo Domingo.
Carnival began almost three centuries before Dominican independence in 1844. Before gaining their independence the Dominican Republic experienced an unstable history of occupation by Spain, France, and Haiti. Christopher Columbus arrived on the island of Hispaniola, known today as the Dominican Republic and Haiti, during his first trip to America in 1492.
The Dominican Republic’s capital, Santo Domingo, was Spain’s first settlement in the New World. In the 16th century, Hispaniola was the bridge between the Caribbean and mainland America under Spanish rule. As the importance of the island dwindled in the 17th century, the Spanish were forced to surrender the western part of the island, known as today as Haiti, to the French in 1697 and the rest of the island a century later in 1795.
The entire island was then named Santo Domingo. The Dominican part did not adjust well to this change in culture and soon after the Haitian part of the island gained its independence in 1804, France lost the rest of the island for good in 1809.The Dominicans’ attempt to earn their own independence was stopped by the Spanish as they recaptured the eastern side of the island under the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Seven years later the Dominican’s acquired their independence and hoped to join the Republic of Gran Colombia (today roughly makes up Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, and Colombia.). However, in 1822 Haiti conquered the entire island ruled for 22 gruesome years.
During the Haitian occupation, Juan Pablo Duarte from Santo Domingo created a secret society named “La Trinitaria” and planned a coup against the Haitian rulers. On February 27, 1844, Juan Pablo Duarte and the rest of “La Triniatria” successfully established the Dominican Republic’s independence as a sovereign state with a cannon shot from the “Puerta del Conde” in Santo Domingo and the rise of the Dominican blue, red, and white flag.
Today on the Dominican Independence Day, locals honor their founding fathers, Juan Pablo Duarte, Ramón Matías Mella and Francisco del Rosario Sánchez in the “Puerta del Conde”, in Santo Domingo, where the declaration of their war for Independence took place, on February 27, 1844. The president of the Dominican Republic gives an annual speech on this day to pay tribute as well. Carnival takes place every weekend in February and parades are on Sundays. La Vega attracts people from all over the world with one of the largest parades after Santo Domingo.
Most towns will send their representatives to La Vega around Independence Day to march in the parade, dressed in a variety of costumes from around the country. Carnival in the Dominican Republic is an event in which everyone participates in and prepares for. Most Dominican towns commemorate Carnival with slight differences from within their own traditions. These distinctions are reflected by the outrageous costume styles and masks, which represent many religious and traditional characters. Each town organizes groups to dress in the same costume or similar colors to symbolize a character representing their individual town. The most commonly known characters are the Diablo Cojuelo (Limping devil), the Calife, and Roba la Gallina (Steal the Chicken).
The Diablo Cojuelo is the most popular character seen throughout Carnival. It is viewed as a flamboyant costume and some suggest it symbolizes early colonizers of the Americas.The interesting history of Dominican Republic independence intertwined with their awe‐inspiring Carnival in February is an experience everyone should have at least once in his or her lifetime.