I am fresh from a week’s vacation in Puerto Rico! Save some fencing, I did very little save read, rest, and walk around Ponce’s historic downtown. The weather was gloriously warm, the food excellent, the company better, and the rest much-needed.
Needless to say I ran into neither USOs, nor the chupacabras of cryptozoological lore (though there were iguanas, many iguanas) because weird stuff doesn’t happen to me. But I did get a taste of Puerto Rican folklore at the Pan Am Championships’ opening ceremony:
These colorful critters are vejigantes (bay-he-GAHN-tay), a sort of all-purpose demon (or family of demons) that evolved out of the meeting of Spanish, African, and native Taíno cultures.
A quick whip around the web reveals the name comes from “vejiga” (Spanish for cow bladder) and “gigante” (giant) in reference to the dried, seed-filled cow bladders they use as “weapons” at festivals like the annual Carnaval Ponceño.
Most striking are the masks (careta) made of papier-mâché and/or coconut husks. Colors and patterns vary by geography (those above are from Ponce) but bright colors, teeth, and horns seem to be constants. This long-standing folk art is specific to Puerto Rico, and though how-tos (PDF) abound I suspect they don’t stick to traditional methods.
Examples of varying quality were on sale everywhere, in every size from fridge-magnet-small to half my height! I could only get this ~4″ sample home, it’s spiky horns protected inside the hard shell of my fencing mask:
The man who sold this to me said it represents the wife of the “main” vejigante. I haven’t found any list of characters or their relationships so far and it frustrates me that I’m ignorant of the stories behind the imagery. The temptation to research is great but unavailability of info may be for the best – I have no business doing new research when The Novel is still in progress.