Vejigante by BobKrist – Getty Images

The Vejigante of Puerto Rico is a folkloric character seen during Carnaval Ponceño. It is an icon of Puerto Rico’s rich cultural diversity. Vejigantes embody the indomitable spirit of the island’s people and are now considered to be objects of good fortune that can repel bad omens and mischievous spirits.

African and Taíno Influence

In Puerto Rico, this processional took on a new face because of the African and Taíno influence. Taínos were believed to be excellent mask makers and fashioned vejigante masks to look scary.

In the 16th and 17th Centuries, the inhabitants along the northeast coast of Puerto Rico used vejigantes to discourage landings by pirates or soldiers on sailing ships. Often, stilts were worn under fabric laden costumes to create the impression of giants with enormous wings when the wearer’s arms were extended.

Today, vejigantes are an integral part of the annual St. James Patron Saint Festivals celebrated throughout Puerto Rico.