Santiago and the Cibao Valley Feature

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Mask Maker

Just days before Carnaval, young mask maker Miguel Morine Morte was still working feverishly to finish some masks for a La Vegan troupe. His older brother and mentor, Melvin Antonio Morte, was off to get a visa for a European trip (he and his masks would be part of a contingent promoting the Dominican Republic as a tourist destination).

Miguel dries the diablo conjuelo (limping devil) masks on a clothesline after they have been painted. (Diablo Conjuelo is the name of one of the local Carnaval groups, which has some 160 members, and each member requires a mask.) The devil had immense horns like barbed branches, an elongated nose, and a leering smile and rows of long teeth. The mask was painted in that year's colors, white and apple green. Such an art object costs US$1,030, which is not bad compared to the heavy, ornate costumes priced at more than US$4,000. The prices are high because each mask takes the artisan and his assistants seven days to make. This is good money in a country where the poorest citizens don't make that much in an entire year.

The 20-year-old, who had started painting for his brother when he was six, insisted that his business wasn't just about the money: "The conetos (masks typical of La Vega's Carnaval) are a cultural tradition, not just in my country but in many others around the world like Brazil, even Germany." He went on to explain the process of fabricating a mask. First a clay mold is sculpted and secured with nails through the head. Then a mixture of gesso (plaster of paris) and acrylic is applied and allowed to dry. It's painted and dried again. Miguel even produced a set of dental work: "In earlier times, they would use real cows' teeth, but now we have a mold for them, too."

How might a tourist acquire such a mask? Miguel says, "Turistas can ask a wearer when the parade is over if they would like to sell theirs. Some do. The going rate is half of what it cost, say $500."

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