In Puerto Rico, Carnival begins on Feb. 2 and lasts until Ash Wednesday. Though the event -- or rather series of events -- has religious meanings, it can be wildly political and satirical and is always filled with spectacular visual and aural effects.
The masks and costumes, many derived from those of the city of Ponce and its long carnival tradition, are used to create imposing and frightening figures in bright robes and masks of horned creatures with threatening teeth and strange facial projections.
A person decked out in robe and mask is called a Vejigante, and the peculiar object he carries is called a Vejiga. The Vejiga is made from a dried and inflated cow bladder. The role of the fearsome Vejigante is to scare the bejabbers out of the children (and susceptible adults) with a well-placed little swat or two, thereby banishing all devilish thoughts.
-- Richard Huntington