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A vejigante is a folkloric character in Puerto Rican festival celebrations (mainly seen in Carnival time). Traditional colors of the Vejigantes were black, red, white, and yellow. Today, Vejigantes wear brightly colored, ornate masks of all colors and a costume with bat-like wings. The term vejigante derives from the word vejiga (bladder) and gigante (giant), due to custom of blowing up and painting cow bladders. The masks are often linked to many festivals that continue today, especially in Loíza and Ponce.
In the 12th century St. James the apostle was believed to lead the Catholic militia to win a battle over the infidel Moors. St. James is the patron saint of Spain and on his saints day, when people celebrated the Victory of St. James over the Moors, the vejigante represented the Moors with whom St. James fought 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. This processional in Puerto Rico has taken on a new face because of the African and Taino influence. The Tainos were believed to be excellent mask makers. Vejigante masks are usually meant as "fright" masks.
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.
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In Puerto Rico when you have los vejigantes