Cocolo Dance Drama Tradition

The Cocolo dancing drama tradition developed among Carribean English-speaking migrant workers, who came to the Dominican Republic in the mid-nineteenth century. The term Cocolo was originally a pejorative term for migrants working on the British sugar plantations of the island. These migrants set up their own churches, schools, benevolent societies and lodges providing mutual assistance and organizing collective cultural events, such as the annual performances of the Cocolo Dancing Drama in the city of San Pedro de Macoris. 


Various Cocolo drama troupes perform at Christmas, between 25 December and the first week of January, on 24 June of each year during the celebrations in honour of St Peter, the city’s patron saint, and at carnival festivities. In these performances, music, dance, gesture and characters of African origin are mixed with dramatic plots, legends and figures taken from medieval European literature and the Bible. The celebrations include gatherings such as Christmas carolling, performances of string and scratch bands, the so-called Niega business, involving masquerades and the staging of theatrical scenes known as ‘David and Goliath’, ‘Moko-Yombi’, ‘Cowboys and Indians’ and ‘Mommies’, among others.

Cocolo culture combines traditions from Africa and Britain and thus bears testimony to a very particular part of the Dominican Republic’s history. African influences can be found in the Cocolo community’s specific values, customs and rules as well as distinctive culinary and medical traditions, music and dance, while the British dimension is embodied in particular forms of language, institutions (such as churches, lodges, sports clubs and schools) as well as a dancing drama tradition that resembles medieval troubadour scenes. This particular Afro-English dancing drama tradition has survived amidst the island’s Spanish-speaking environment, and older members of the Cocolo community still speak their particular form of Caribbean English at home.

Today, Cocolos live dispersed in different regions of the Dominican Republic, and many of them have been assimilated into the broader Dominican society. This development has made it more difficult for the remaining members of the Cocolo community to retain their specific institutions, and also to keep the dancing drama tradition alive. Most of the Cocolo performers, singers and dancers are elder people, who struggle to transmit the Cocolo dancing drama tradition to younger members of their communities.