A vejigante is a folkloric character in Puerto Rican festival celebrations (mainly seen in Carnival time). Traditional colors of the Vejigantes were green, yellow, and red or red and black. Today, Vejigantes wear brightly colored, ornate masks corresponding to the colors of their costumes that detail bat-like wings. The term vejigante derives from the words vejiga (bladder) and gigante (giant) due to custom of blowing up and painting cow bladders. The masks are often linked to festivals that continue today, especially in Loíza and Ponce.
In the 12th century, the patron saint of Spain, St. James the Apostle, was believed to have led the Catholic militia in battle against the Moors. On his saints day, when people celebrated the victory, the vejigante represented the defeated Moors.
By the 17th century, it was typical to see processionals in Spain in which vejigantes were demons meant to terrify people into going back to church. Hence, there are references of vejigantes in Cervantes' Don Quixote written in 1605. Back then, the vejigante symbolized the Devil in the battle between good and evil.
In Puerto Rico, this processional took on a new face because of the African and Taíno influence. Taínos were believed to be excellent mask makers. Vejigante masks are usually meant to look scary.
Festivals of St. James
St. James saint day is celebrated in Puerto Rico with the use of the vejigantes. In today's festivals, some believe that the vejigante is a figure of resistance to colonialism and imperialism. The festivals have four main characters: el Caballero (the knight), los vejigantes, los viejos (the elders), and las locas (the crazy women). The festivals in Loiza and Ponce have their own characteristics.
In Loíza, the vejigante masks are made from coconut, whose cortex has been carved out to allow a human face. The eyes and mouth are carved out of the coconut with an addition of bamboo teeth. The costume is made of "a jumper" that has a lot of extra fabric at the arms to simulate wings.
In Ponce, the vejigante masks are made from papier-mâché and usually contain many horns. The jump suit is very similar to the jumpers used in Loiza
Check out these videos for a view of the festivals today.
In other media
- Marvel Comics released a one-shot comic book called Fantastic Four in... Ataque del M.O.D.O.K. which debuted a Puerto Rican superhero called El Vejigante, based on the urban legend.
- Loiza Aldea Yearly Patron Saints Day
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