The first such events were held in Puerto Rico in the third decade of the 19th century. Their precedents were the masked balls or masked street festivals on San Pedro Day that were instituted under the government of Miguel de la Torre (1822-1837) to distract the population from the revolutions taking place in other Spanish colonies, called the Atlantic Revolution.
Traditionally, on the morning of the day the festival would begin, a group of musicians walked through the streets performing traditional folk music. This was called the alboradas. During the day, there was the parade of King Momo, along with the masked vejigantes, cabezudos and musical groups. There were also traditional student musical groups called estudiantinas that asked for donations to pay for their studies. The festival ended at sundown.
Throughout the activity, a festive multitude invaded the streets, dressed in disguises and parading through the streets dancing and singing songs and choruses. From the balconies, some of the participants threw food, water and objects at those below. They also tied pigs bladders, or vejigas, inflated with air, to a pole and attacked the passersby while repeating the refrain, "Vejigante a la boya, pan y cebolla!" or "¡Vejigante está pinta'o de verde, amarillo y colorao!" Thus arose the tradition known as the "vejigantes." Later, confetti and paper replaced the eggs, rotten fruit and dirty water that were thrown at the people below. In the Old San Juan carnaval, people walked from La Puntilla Arsenal to the Ballajá neighborhood. This festival was held, according to Medieval tradition, three days before the beginning of Lent.
Over the years, the festival came to be held as well in social clubs and casinos, where a carnaval queen was selected. In the first decade of the 20th century in San Juan, the Spanish Casino Carnaval and the Artesan Carnaval were held. The custom also took hold in Mayagüez, Ponce and Aguadilla. The elected queen would come out on Sunday to pass through the streets on her float, which was decorated in an allegorical theme, such as "One Thousand and One Nights," to the town plaza, where the public awaited her.
The tradition waned in the 1920s but was revived in the middle of the 1930s, as the government considered it useful for promoting tourism. Based on that premise, economic support was sought from businesses and industry to pay for the costs of running and organizing the festival. By the middle of the 20th century, calypso music from the Virgin Islands was introduced into the festival. The traditional bands were accompanied by a steel drum band. Later, the calypso music was replaced by traditional music that was accompanied by steel drums from the neighboring Caribbean islands. Eventually, the traditional instruments returned: the güiro, maracas, guitar, tiple and congas.
Today, some towns preserve the tradition of carnaval, although with variations. The "alboradas" and the "estudiantinas" no longer exist, but other components do.
Canino, Marcelino. La Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico, Tomo Folklore. Editor Vicente Báez, San Juan: Puerto Rico en la mano y La Gran Enciclopedia Inc, Primera edición, 1976. Impreso
Richard de Cancio, Haydée E. Ph.D. Los carnavales de ayer. En línea
De Hostos, Adolfo. Historia de San Juan ciudad murada. San Juan: Instituto de Literatura Puertorriqueña, 1969. Impreso
Abreu, Sara E. 300 años de la defensa de Arecibo por el capitán Correa Las fiestas carnavalinas en Puerto Rico: Un recuento de las fiestas del ayer. En línea
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: April 30, 2010.