HistoryWired About the Program Help Comments Smithsonian Institution

Carnivals are of ancient origin and virtually all peoples in all eras have organized carnivals to mark or celebrate different events. Carnivals can be magical, political, satirical, or purely entertaining; some even poke fun at death. In much of Puerto Rico and other parts of the world with a strong Roman Catholic presence, Carnaval has a special meaning. It refers to the last days before the beginning of Lent. In Puerto Rico, Carnaval begins on February 2 and lasts until Ash Wednesday, which is forty days before Easter.

In many carnivals, masks are key ingredients of the public spectacle. Some elements of carnival in Ponce, including the use of papier-mâché masks, probably came to the island from Spain. Other customs may have come from African and Native American traditions.


Carnaval de Ponce

Many masks and costumes come from the carnival in Ponce, a town in southern Puerto Rico. The carnival dates from the mid-1700s and involves revelry, music, masks, and costumes. The masks are made of papier-mâché in scary and devilish shapes, with brilliant colors, horns, and playful designs.

Costumes are one-piece coveralls made of bright cloth. Yellow and red, the colors of the Spanish flag, and black and red, the colors of the town of Ponce, predominate. A person in full regalia is called a vejigante. His role is to scare people, especially children, by swatting them with a vejiga, a dried and inflated cow bladder.

Carnaval has been popularized and preserved, partly through the efforts of Teodoro Vidal. Many Ponceños consider him a hero for publicizing the Ponce carnival and documenting the tradition of mask making in his book, The Papier Maché Masks of the Ponce Carnival.




"Aclotile" from the recording entitled Puerto Rico in Washington, Folkways SF 40460, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1989 Used by permission.

Bomba music and dance are characterized by two types of call-and-response: between the solo singer and the coro (chorus), or as a call-and-response "dialogue" between the dancer and the solo drum (called requinto). The solo drummer must never take his eyes off the dancer; he must be prepared to "answer," in the language of his drum, the improvised steps and arm and body movements of the dancer.


Start HistoryWired | About the Program | Help | Comments

Smithsonian Institution | Terms of Use | Privacy