The inspiration for this collection of artwork
and music by Bebe Bambu is El Vejigante.
This emblematic character was created for the carnivals in the island of Puerto Rico and it has its roots in the beginnings of the spanish colonization and the arrival of african people to the island. During the indoctrination process of the indigenous people and new African slaves, the spanish colonizers began performing their festivals and religious ceremonies in adoration of the Catholics Saints; to support the assimilation of these beliefs onto the local population. One of these celebrations is specifically dedicated to Santiago Apostol Matamoros, the patron saint of Spain.
This celebration has its origins in the conquest of the catholic kings over the Islamic occupation of Spain.
In the context of Puerto Rico; the celebration of Santiago Apostol played a role in the process of the social integration and forced indoctrination of a multicultural population. These festivities consisted of a parade that showcased the story of the Apostle and the catholic conquest over the Islamic occupation in Spain. The parade dressed the catholic heroes as brave and victorious knights triumphing over the forces of evil.
The antagonist to this battle is the Vejigante character who represents the Islamic influence and other malignant forces, portrayed as colorful demons in masks. During the carnival, the playful Vejigante character would try to scare the younger children and later embrace his defeat to the catholic knights.
The Vejigante soon became a fan favorite and the artistic work to decorate these masks became more and more important across the island. The Vejigante with a coconut mask is more characteristic of the town of Loíza, which held the largest african population and influence in the island. Here is where the first Coconut Mask was crafted, this quickly became a popular figure in the parade for its peculiar form, long horns, bright colors and mischievous personality.
The coconut is carved and cut in a way that forms a face, later to be decorated with paint as a complete work of art. The coconut mask is a symbol of our african roots and descendance; also an important and sacred object of our history and traditions. Ironic enough, the coconut was regarded as “The Devil’s Fruit” because It baffled the slave owners to know of its incredible health and nutritious benefits; plus its sacred role in traditional African spirituality.
This character has gained a new meaning for this new generation of Puertoricans and Caribbeans as it represents a forgotten history that was kept from us.
It represents the rebellions that came before us.
A figure intended to be monstrous and evil has become the symbol of a repressed collective identity. The villain in the story that we all came to love, the underdog, the antagonist and the connection to our ancestors.
This collection of music and artwork explores how the spirit of the Vejigante has transcended and manifested itself through the centuries.
- bebe bambu