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Dominican Republic Carnival Masks
Traditionally, a lot of Dominican families of influence have resided in Santiago. It is a location that a lot of political forces in the countries history have emerged from. As a result, the carnival held in Santiago is more of a testament to its history than a protector of its traditions like in La Vega. Santiago, like La Vega, has both a main, public carnival that is available for all people to partake in and there are also private celebrations held where access is limited to certain people. The celebrations in Santiago each year begin with a competition in which local artisans display their mask in front of a panel of judges. The masks are then rated on a variety of categories by a panel of judges. These contests are taken very seriously and preserve a tradition that is very unique to Santiago.

There are two basic mask types in Santiago which each originated in separate neighborhoods. The mask that came from the neighborhood of La Joya has two main horns surrounded by multiple, smaller horns. It also has a long pointed up snout. The second type is from the neighborhood of Los Pepines. This one has a broader face similar to a duck. It has smooth, longer horns than the one from La Joya. The different styles can probably be attributed to the rivalry the two neighborhoods have always held. This has no doubt enhanced the creativity of the masks being made as one neighborhood tries to out do the other.

The majority of the masks are professionally made. However, some of the poorer participants who cannot afford to purchase a mask are forced to improvise and make their own. These individually made masks can be composed of a number of materials including cardboard, plastic, discarded jugs and other types of containers. Some of these homemade masks are very imaginative and they allow their creators to participate in and enjoy the festivities like everyone else does.

Masks that are professionally made are related to the cattle farming culture in the Dominican Republic. Leftovers from the slaughterhouse in Santiago such as horns, teeth and hides played a large role in the materials that went into the making of the masks early on. Clay taken from a river near where the slaughterhouse was in Santiago was used to form a mold which was then baked and dried in the sun. The mold for the horns was formed around the leftover horns from the slaughterhouse. These molds could then be used over and over again. Inside the mold would be placed several layers of paper, which were usually brown paper bags to form the masks. Generally, yucca starch which was cooked into a paste and then preserved with lime juice would be used to prevent the mix from spoiling in the heat.

After the mask has been polished up, it is ready to be painted. This is usually done using household oil paint. Pieces of foam are then attached to the inside of the mask to accommodate the wearers face and make it more comfortable. After that, all there is left to do it attach plastic bands to the sides to support the head.

If you happen to be in the Dominican Republic during carnival, visiting the celebrations in Santiago and La Vega can be a great way to experience some Dominican culture and tradition and gives you the opportunity to personally see what works of art some of these masks are.

This article was written using information provided by Ivan Erikson from his excellent website at dominicanmasks.com

 
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