TITLE: Dominican Carnival Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Caribbean
COUNTRY: Dominican Republic
MAKER: Unknown maker in Santiago de los Caballeros
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint
During the Carnival of the Dominican Republic, which actually falls on the Dominican Independence Day rather than the Catholic Mardi Gras, paraders don elaborate masks and costumes to represent devils, monsters, clowns, and other characters. Different towns have different traditional masks. In Santiago de los Caballeros, a very large parade involving hundreds of masked marchers takes place every year, prominently featuring characters known as the lechón, or “piglet.” Notwithstanding their name, they nearly always look like a cross between a duck and a bull. The lechón is one of two traditional masks, the other being the pepín, which looks similar but with horns covered in spikes. Modern pepín masks often substitute elaborate collections of fruit, flowers, geometric shapes, or other creative decorations on the horns.
These diabolical creatures carry rope whips and inflated bladders on a rope (formerly goat bladders, but today mostly rubber) that they use to strike audience members, preferably young women, on the buttocks. The ritual thereby serves the dual function of providing a release for young male testosterone and reminding the audience of the torments awaiting in Hell.
Traditionally, such masks were made of paper maché like this one, but in modern times they have been increasingly made of fiberglass molded around a sculpted model. This allows crews of paraders to wear similar masks as a group without the need sculpt each mask individually. Even so, tremendous work goes into the molding, preparation, painting, and adornment of each mask. Frequently the costumes require months of hand-stitching as well.