Easter Marks End of Gagá Festivities in Dominican Republic


Easter Sunday marked the end of the Gagá celebrations in the Dominican Republic. Gagá, the Dominican version of Haitian Rará (see Ivette’s post from yesterday), is often described as “an encounter of brotherhood and solidarity between the Haitian and Dominican peoples.” The festivities, which began in earnest on Ash Wednesday, are considered by many a “pagan” celebration that parallels that of Christian Lent. During Holy Week, in rural bateys or communities of sugar cane workers in the Dominican countryside, practitioners manifest their belief in God and the African lwa or spirits through music, dance, rites and ceremonies. Of principal importance are the celebrations centered on death and rebirth, and those emphasizing the mystères that can lead to a new or renewed life. Gagá Holy Week celebrations also include recreations of the experience of marronage and of slave rebellions.

One of the most important centers of Gagá is the region of San Pedro de Macorís, an important sugar-producing region in the Dominican Republic, where Gagá is very closely connected to carnival celebrations. San Pedro de Macorís is best known for producing world-class baseball players and for the Guloyas or cocolos (descendants of British Caribbean slaves who had come to the Dominican Republic in the mid-nineteenth century to work in the sugar fields), who perform their characteristic dances (a blend of medieval English and African dance traditions) during carnival and Christmas celebrations and have been declared by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Humanity’s Oral and Intangible Patrimony. Also important in Gagá celebrations of the community of El Llano, Elías Piña, in the southern frontier with Haiti where, on Good Thursday, impressive masks, suggestive of zombies or bacá spirits, are placed on patios and front gardens as spiritual guardians. On Good Friday, as the Masks of the Devil, they are worn by men dressed as women who come down from the hills, running through the streets o fthe community, brandishing whips and pursuing the locals in a mockery of punishment. At the conclusion of the festivities on Sunday, the masks are taken to the hills, where they are burned. The seeds are scattered over the fields as a ritual of fertility and renewal. In the Batey Bienvenidos, in the western part of the Santo Domingo Province, the Gagá celebrations follow time-honored rituals, offering perhaps the most authentic manifestation of traditional Gagá celebrations in the Dominican Republic. During the festival, which is organized by the small community in strict accordance to the strict hierarchies characteristic of Gagá groups, the dancers go from house to house in the village, collecting “contributions” in money or food.

Photo above is from


For a video of a Holy Week Gagá celebration go to

3 thoughts on “Easter Marks End of Gagá Festivities in Dominican Republic

  1. I wonder how Dominican this is, as the song is in Haitian kreyol… To that end, I wonder to what extent Haitian migration into the DR has shaped Gaga. Hmm… On another note, thank you for this wonderful blog! It’s incredible informative!

  2. It is essentially Haitian, hence the Creole. It is primarily practiced by Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic. And thanks for the kind words about the blog. We value them.

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