As the entire Dominican Republic celebrate the opening of the New Year on January 1st, some Dominicans hold events that give importance to one of the dying yet very prominent traditions in the land in a feast called the Cocolo Festival.
When the wave of African immigrants moved into Hispaniola during and after the Spaniards have settled in the land, they have brought many traditions with them that now compose the Fibers of the Dominicans’ culture. Among the groups of Ethnic Immigrants was the Cocolo tribe which originated from the Bahamas and the Greater Antilles. They are largely known as the English-speaking Caribbean people who brought with them a culture that has the elements of both the European and African Cultures. It is, as many people have said before, the culmination of the merging of the cultures of the African slaves and the European Colonizers. Although they still have retained their political and social economic authority.
Years after they have settled in Hispaniola, the Cocolo dancing drama tradition have developed. It was, among their own educational system and religion, the most distinct expressions of their culture. It was its peak during the mid-nineteenth century. In recent times, the Assimilation of the Cocolo descendants with the majority of the Dominicans have caused the disintegration of the Cocolo’s culture. Although, as is apparent in some areas in the Dominican Republic, the Cocolo dancing drama tradition is still very much alive.
In its original form, the dancing drama is performed on Christmas and on Carnavals. Nowadays, it is performed only in January in San Pedro de Macoris, a province in the Dominican Republic where the Cocolos originally settled.
The Cocolo Festival features the music, dances and songs that are patterned in the tunes of the original Cocolo music. These have African and European influences which make them very unique in the Dominican Republic, if not distinct from every other Music In The World.
The music, for example, is patterned after the African pace and the dances have the steps and movements particular to the African court. Although when these are dramatized, they become an entirely different art form. They become almost exclusively European because of the themes and stories adopted. Among the most typical stories performed in the Cocolo Festival is the Mumme’s Play, thus the Festival has become associated with street dancers and performers called the ‘Mummers’. This tells of the story about St. George and his enemy. In summary, this reflects the main theme of the Cocolo dance drama the battle between good and evil.
Other dance dramas and games usually performed at the Cocolo Festival are the ‘Guloyas’ and the ‘Baile del Buey’. The ‘Guloyas’ consist of several groups of dancers who perform a variety of dances. Among the many they showcase is the ‘Dance of Stilts’ which requires dancers to dance on high stilts while wearing pompous jackets. The ‘Baile del Buey’, meanwhile, is performed by a festival character whose main features are identified with the bull.
The Cocolo Festival, although less popular than other Dominican Republic holidays, is indeed among the nation’s more important heritage. It is no wonder that UNESCO has chosen it as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity.