The Vejigantes are Coming

by Carmen Milagros-Torres

A vegigante by Erick Ortiz Gelpi
When February arrives, the people of Ponce, Puerto Rico prepare for their special festival, the Carnival of Ponce. It is a week-long celebration full of music, dancing, and parades. The Carnival of Ponce has been celebrated in Puerto Rico for hundreds of years. The most important part of this celebration are the masked vejigantes in their bright costumes.

The vejigantes look like colorful monsters that leap and dance to the beat of the drums. Wearing bright, satiny jumpers with wing-like sleeves, they look like human bats. But the most important part of the vejigante costume is the mask.

The masks are made of layers of paper and glue known as paper-mâché. The dried mask is painted in bright yellows, reds, purples, and blues. The artisans then paint complex designs with circles, squares, triangles, or big and small rectangles. All the masks have horns. Some have two horns, some have three, some have seven horns. One mask even has thirteen.

The vejigantes also carry a vejiga, a bag made of cow bladder that is filled with pebbles. The vejiga makes a maraca-like sound as the vejigante swings it trying to hit the people. As the vejigante walk in the parade, the watch the crowd of people. Suddenly, they jump and start chasing any person they see.  They swing the vejiga trying to catch the person who laughs and runs. The crowd cheers at the vejigantes. The vejigante jumps and dances in the crowd and then returns back to the parade.

The vejigantes love to dance.  They move to the rhythm of bomba, the traditional music of Puerto Rico.  This music originated in Africa and is mainly produced by the bomba drum which is made from a barrel. The bomba musician sits behind the drum as he pounds out the rhythm: TUN-TUN-tun-tun, TUN-TUN-tun-tun, TUN-TUN-tun-tun.

When the vejigantes hear the music, they begin to dance. Vejigantes dressed in blue, vejigantes dressed in yellow, vejigantes dressed in green, and vejigantes dressed in purple. And all dance to the rhythm of TUN-TUN-tun-tun. As they walk down the street you can hear, “The vejigantes are coming!” The children shout and dance, twirling round and round. The vejigantes jump and dance and join the children’s dance.

Then comes the round of chants. The vejigantes and children chant silly songs about the vejigantes and the carnival:

Vejigantes: Knock, knock, knock, knock!
Children:         The vejigantes eat coconut!
Vejigantes: Pru-cu-ta, pru-cu-ta!
Children:         How good is all that?
Vejigantes: That old woman is a witch!
Children:         A witch she is!
Vejigantes: And her eyes are the color...
Children:         of chocolate!
Vejigantes: Vejigante to the water!
Children:         Bread and onion!
Vejigantes: Vejigante ate mango !
Children:         And even licked his toes!
Vejigantes: Knock, knock, knock, knock!
Children:         The vejigantes eat coconut!
Vejigantes: La-ri-O, la-ri-O!
Children:         La-ri-O, la-ri-O!
Vejigantes: La-ri,la-ri, la-ri-O!
Children:         La-ri,la-ri, la-ri-O!

And then the vejigantes once more dance to the rhythm of bomba. When the music ends, the vejigantes leave the carnival. They will return next February to dance and play more pranks.


About the author...

Carmen Milagros Torres is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao. She is currently completing a PhD in Caribbean Linguistics. Her interests include photography, crocheting and reading children's literature, especially Caribbean children's books which highlight the Afro-Caribbean experience.

About the illustrator...

Erick Ortiz Gelpi is a plastic artist and visual arts teacher from Peñuelas, Puerto Rico. He has participated in numerous collective and individual art expositions. His illustrations have appeared in The Caribbean Voice newspaper published in New York.

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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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  1. We in the english-speaking know so little of the customs and traditions of our neighbours in Puerto Rico. Nice to know that we share similar things as this reminds me of the jab jabs seen on jouvert morning in Trinidad ad Tobago Carnival and also some of the
    other papier mache characters of long ago.