Student Post: When the World Gets Turned Upside-Down

Authored by:
Natalie Green

Natalie Green

This blog post was written by David, one of the participants in our Language and Culture program. He's been a quiet and observant student these past few weeks, often taking notes on the topics we're learning about during afternoon activities, asking more about topics he finds interesting, and processing his experience through his art and weekly reflections. I asked him to share some of his learning and what he thinks about one of the most popular and iconic cultural events here in the Dominican Republic: Carnaval. 

David with the Dominican flag-inspired Lechón mask he painted
One of David's original drawings depicting the Lechón

El lechón

In these weeks of being submerged in Dominican culture, slang, words, and ways of life, I stumbled upon something that piqued my interest. The Lechón. The lechones are characters that parade around in the streets of Santiago, the capital of the Cibao region in the Dominican Republic, during the days of Carnaval. They are bizarre-looking and flashy with accessories on their horns, boldly painted faces, and a whip that cracks the sky. The lechón is exclusive only to Santiago as a satirical representation of the devil. Although odd and adverse to my beliefs, it is interesting how a Catholic majority celebrates around the theme of "the world being turned upside-down—where normal life is no longer normal and God is no longer the main focus”.

In the neighborhood "Los Pepines" during our walking tour of street art, we experienced our own little "Carnaval", even though it happens every year in February in the weeks leading up to Holy Week and Easter. During our Carnaval we got to see for ourselves what it's like during the events here in the city. One of the buildings in this area is painted with images of the famous Lechón, so of course we had to pose for some pictures with the Santiagueros in their costumes and in front of the murals. Alexa (bottom right) loves posing for my pictures. :) 
El lechón with his whip 
Los lechones are fun for people of all ages -- most of the people we saw dressed up were young men who loved showing off their bright and shiny costumes.

On our first day in Santiago we stopped by this museum that has some examples of the traditional masks and costumes used during Carnaval in Santiago. An explanation of the different styles of masks can be found at the link included at the bottom of this post. 

Collin and David posing for a pic with a Lechón at the museum.

El Diablo

Each city has their own take on how the devil is represented in their local cultures, with names like Diablo Cojuelo, Máscara del Diablo, Toros y civiles, Diablo marino, Taimacorro, Calife, Platuses, and many others. Each has their own distinct look and attire. They further represent the African heritage that, in history, has been shadowed and demeaned by Euro-centric pride. During Carnaval, individuals are free to practice, play, sing, dance, and celebrate in whatever manner they please without worry of discrimination. The dances step to the forbidden African history, the songs sing loud to the ancestors and their stories, and the music writes their future. It’s quite a sight to behold before one’s eye.

One of the "upside-down" parts of the celebrations is the "Roba la Gallina" costume. Men dress up as women with exaggerated curves. The story goes that a man was found stealing hens and he tried hiding them in his clothing, as if his newfound curves were natural, and not chickens he was attempting to smuggle away. Ha! 
After learning about Carnaval this week, we had the chance to paint masks handcrafted by Pascual, a local artesan who makes the masks for Carnaval each year. Here's Jena and Delphine getting started on painting their own Lechón masks
Adeja and Jaide working on their masks
Maddie and her mask
Omarrah, MyAja, Ananya, Delphine, and Mikayla, all concentrated on their masks.
Some of the final products (From top left: Natalie, Omarrah, Rebecca, Cat, and Adeja's masks). 

For more information on Carnaval here in Santiago, read this article. We visited the museum mentioned in the article on our first day in the city! I personally enjoyed learning more about the history of the Lechón and the unique traditions that come from different parts of the city. 


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