The Dominican Republic celebrates the spirit of the Caribbean with a vitalizing mixture of three different cultures, which have contributed to native music, gastronomy and language.
Dominicans have the right to freely choose their own faith, thanks to the Dominican Constitution that establishes freedom of worship. Most of the inhabitants are professed Roman Catholics, and therefore Roman Catholicism is the nation’s official religion. However, the populace also practices many Protestant and other popular doctrines.
The country celebrates most of the important religious dates, especially January 21st, the “Virgen de la Altagracia” (patron saint) Day, Easter and Christmas holidays. The different provinces usually celebrate once a year the “Fiestas Patronales,” in which people pay tribute to each community’s patron saint through cultural manifestations such as dances, music and ceremonies.
It plays a significant role in the lives of the Dominicans. The rich variety of cultural influences gave birth to the chords of the internationally well-known “Merengue” and “Bachata.” Other typical rhythms are “Mangulina” and “Perico Ripiao,” which are danced in couples, accompanied by rhythmical movements, along with the sounds of percussion drums, “güira” and other instruments.
It is eclectically represented in almost every aspect of daily life. The yearly Carnival, whose pageants glitter with Caribbean brilliance, is one of the cultural events that best reflects the colors and flavors of the islanders. This time of celebrations and rejoicing takes place before Easter, and usually coincides with the February 27TH Independence Day festivities. Many provinces have their own masquerades and costumes, with distinguishing characteristics. The Carnival of La Vega stands out thanks to its parades, the brightness of its “Diablos Cojuelos,” and its cheerful music.
A blend of Indian, Spanish and African ingredients, the Dominican traditional cuisine is full of exquisite dishes made of plantains, wheat flour, corn, rice and meats. A widely popular meal is called “La Bandera” (the flag); it consists of white rice, beans, meat stew and“tostones” (fried green plantains) and is often served at lunch.
The country enjoys many dishes that are a delicious legacy of its origins. The “Sancocho” is a stew which combines plantains, green bananas, yams, vegetables and different meats for an exquisite taste and the famous “Mangú” is made of smashed plantains. The“Mofongo,” is made of plantains smashed with garlic and“chicharon” (fried pork) and served with fried meat in a wooden“pilón”—it expresses nuances of Dominican folk culture from its presentation to its taste. The “yaniqueque” (Johnny’s cake) is a crunchy dough fried with salt in very hot oil; the “Chenchén,” which originated in the southwestern region, is made of chopped corn grains boiled with milk and served as a substitute for rice; the “Casabe” (a type of cassava) which is a hard and dried torte made with bitter yucca, is a traditional food of the Taino Indians. The “pastel en hoja,” softly smashed plantains with other vegetables, stuffed with chicken or beef, is served boiled and wrapped in plantain leaves and is usually prepared on Christmas Eve.
This also shows the unique elements of the three cultures. Easter is celebrated with the widely anticipated “habichuelas con dulce” (sweet red beans), a mixture of red kidney beans, milk, sugar, sweet potatoes and raisins, served with the season’s traditional cookies or “casabe.” Another tasteful dessert is the “Chacá,” that combines corn, milk, sugar and raisins; and one should not forget the “Dulces criollos” (Creole sweets), made from cow or goat milk, oranges, coconut, guavas and other tropical fruits.
Likewise, beverages inherited elements from the Spanish and Indian cultures. The “Mabí,” is a refreshing drink obtained by the fermenting the “Bejuco Indio” plant (a type of reed) or lemon juice mixed with sugar; the “Morirsoñando” is orange juice blended with milk and sugar; and the “Champola” is guanabana juice with milk and sugar. Alcoholic drinks are also popular and of good quality. Dominicans are proud of the well-known Ron and the traditional beer, commonly known as “fría.”