TITLE: Cuchillo Mask and Hat
TYPE: face mask; accessory
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Tlaxcala
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Cuchillo (Knife) Mask with Hat
MAKER: Isaac Salóm (1949-2021, Huejotzingo, Puebla)
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE (Mask): 1971
AGE (Hat): 2022
MAIN MATERIAL: leather (calfskin)
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; goat leather and fur; cotton thread; elastic straps

The state of Tlaxcala, Mexico, has a variety of traditions and masks used during Carnival. In the town of Tloluca, the main dance is the Danza de los Cuchillos (Dance of the Knives). The cuchillo mask is made of calfskin and worn by dancers who strap knives to their calves and dance by clicking them together. Around them dance several characters dressed in cowboy (charro) costumes. These include one wearing a black mask, who represents a demon, and several wearing masks composed of goat fur. In some dances, a witch appears who represents the cruel foreman of the plantation whom the dancers (the cuchillos and charros) ultimately are said to have hung. They dance a variety of dances, including the Knives Dance and a circular dance in which the dancers take turns carrying each other.

This mask was danced by Ruperto Olivares Hernández (1969- , Toluca de Guadalupe, Tlaxcala) of the Pandilla Cuchillos y Charros for fifty-one years (1971-2022), although it was made in the town of Huejotzingo in the neighboring state of Puebla, where similar leather masks are used to celebrate the Mexican victory over the French on May 5, 1862. The elaborate hat features two crossed knives decorating the front, to designate the Carnival dancer as a Cuchillo.



A brief documentary about Carnival in the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico.

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TITLE: Charro Mask and Cape
TYPE: face mask; costume
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Tlaxcala
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Charro (Cowboy) Mask with Cape
MAKER (Mask): Constantino Torres Pérez (1956- , Papalotla, Tlaxcala)
MAKER (Cape): Francisca Lara Guerrero (1936- , Papalotla, Tlaxcala)
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE (Mask): 2017
AGE (Cape): 2015
MAIN MATERIAL (Mask): wood
OTHER MATERIALS (Mask): resin; oil-based paint; glass eyes; cattle hair eyelashes; gold foil; cotton string; plastic beads; cotton straps
MATERIALS (Cape): cotton granité cloth; cotton skein yarn; cotton thread; sequins

Carnival in Tlaxcala, Mexico has traditions quite different from those in other parts of the country.  In the town of Papalotla, Tlaxcala, men dress in elaborate costumes with broad feathered hats and detailed capes to perform a dance called El Pedimento del Agua (The Petition for Water). The costume for the dance, probably originating as a Chichimeca rain dance, is elaborately symbolic. The feathers symbolize clouds, the band around the head the sky, a beribboned mirror behind the head (the rocetón) symbolizes the moon and stars with a rainbow, and the leg coverings symbolize the home, or protection. On the cape, the sequins symbolize rain and the cotton braids symbolize snow. The design includes roses, which evoke nature, and the Mexican eagle. In addition, the charro dancers carry a braided whip called a cuarta, traditionally made of ixtle fiber, which symbolizes both thunder (noise of the whip cracking) and the chirrionera, a coachwhip snake, which according to local myths represents a woman converted into a serpent by a curse.

The mask of the charro is similar to the catrín mask used in other parts of Tlaxcala and, like them, ridicules the gentrified Spanish colonizers, with beauty marks and a gold tooth.

In the dance, dancers are orgnized into two structures, an exterior and an interior. The exterior is composed entirely of charros. The inner structure revolves around a female figure, the Nana (a man dressed as a women, with a female mask), who is surrounded by young female dancers (doncellas) and male dancers in simpler suits known as vasarios.

This mask was danced by its maker from 2017 until 2020. The cape was hand sewn in 2015 and rented out by the Taller Silver Star to be danced in the Carnival of Papalotla until 2020.



A brief documentary about Carnival in the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico.

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TITLE: Moor (Devil) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Moro (Moor) Mask in the form of a Diablo (Devil)
MAKER: Rafael Mesa Oliva (1978- , Naolinco de Victoria)
CEREMONY: Fiesta de San Mateo (Danza de los Pilatos)
AGE: 2022
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; lacquer; plastic; silicon glue; string

The Danza de los Pilatos, also called La Danza de los Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians), is an important celebration in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The dance reenacts the reconquest Spain from the Saracens by the European Christians. The dance arose from the teachings of missionaries as part of an effort to instill respect for and fear of the Spaniards in the indigenous peoples, and to convince them that the victory of Christianity over other faiths—by violence whenever necessary—was inevitable.

The dance is still performed widely in Mexico, including in Mexico State, Michoacán, Puebla, and Veracruz. Characters vary depending on locality, although they always include “Christians” or “Spaniards” and Moors. In Naolinco, Veracruz, the dance is performed on the holiday of the town patron saint, St. Matthew (Fiesta de San Mateo), celebrated on Sept. 20-21 every year.  There, Moors take many forms, including devils, pirates, clowns, or, as here, skeletons. This mask represents a Moor in the form of a devil chewing on a sinner. It was carved by the master craftsman, Rafael Mesa Oliva.

For more on masks from Veracruz, see Bryan J. Stevens, Mexican Masks and Puppets: Master Carvers of the Sierra de Puebla (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Pub’g, 2012).


A brief video with highlights of the Danza de los Moros y Cristianos from Naolinco’s 2018 Fiesta de San Mateo.

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TITLE: Moor (Calavera) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Moro (Moor) Mask in the form of a Calavera con Serpientes (Skull with Snakes)
MAKER: Rafael Mesa Oliva (1978- , Naolinco de Victoria)
CEREMONY: Fiesta de San Mateo (Danza de los Pilatos)
AGE: 2022
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; lacquer; plastic; silicon glue; string

The Danza de los Pilatos, also called La Danza de los Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians), is an important celebration in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The dance reenacts the reconquest Spain from the Saracens by the European Christians. The dance arose from the teachings of missionaries as part of an effort to instill respect for and fear of the Spaniards in the indigenous peoples, and to convince them that the victory of Christianity over other faiths—by violence whenever necessary—was inevitable.

The dance is still performed widely in Mexico, including in Mexico State, Michoacán, Puebla, and Veracruz. Characters vary depending on locality, although they always include “Christians” or “Spaniards” and Moors. In Naolinco, Veracruz, the dance is performed on the holiday of the town patron saint, St. Matthew (Fiesta de San Mateo), celebrated on Sept. 20-21 every year.  There, Moors take many forms, including devils, pirates, clowns, or, as here, skeletons. This mask represents a Moor in the form of a skeleton (calavera), with frightful decorations on its face. It was carved by the master craftsman, Rafael Mesa Oliva.

For more on masks from Veracruz, see Bryan J. Stevens, Mexican Masks and Puppets: Master Carvers of the Sierra de Puebla (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Pub’g, 2012).


A brief video with highlights of the Danza de los Moros y Cristianos from Naolinco’s 2018 Fiesta de San Mateo.

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TITLE: Moor (Catrina) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Moro (Moor) Mask in the form of a Catrina
MAKER: Rafael Mesa Oliva (1978- , Naolinco de Victoria)
CEREMONY: Fiesta de San Mateo (Danza de los Pilatos)
AGE: 2022
MAIN MATERIAL: equimite wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; cotton cords

The Danza de los Pilatos, also called La Danza de los Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians), is an important celebration in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The dance reenacts the reconquest Spain from the Saracens by the European Christians. The dance arose from the teachings of missionaries as part of an effort to instill respect for and fear of the Spaniards in the indigenous peoples, and to convince them that the victory of Christianity over other faiths—by violence whenever necessary—was inevitable.

The dance is still performed widely in Mexico, including in Mexico State, Michoacán, Puebla, and Veracruz. Characters vary depending on locality, although they always include “Christians” or “Spaniards” and Moors. In Naolinco, Veracruz, the dance is performed on the holiday of the town patron saint, St. Matthew (Fiesta de San Mateo), celebrated on Sept. 20-21 every year.  There, Moors take many forms, including devils, pirates, clowns, or, as here, skeletons. This mask represents a Moor in the form of a Day of the Dead skull, called a catrina. It was carved by the master craftsman, Rafael Mesa Oliva.

For more on masks from Veracruz, see Bryan J. Stevens, Mexican Masks and Puppets: Master Carvers of the Sierra de Puebla (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Pub’g, 2012).


A brief video with highlights of the Danza de los Moros y Cristianos from Naolinco’s 2018 Fiesta de San Mateo.

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TITLE: Moor (Eagle Warrior) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Moro (Moor) Mask in the form of a Cuauhtli (Eagle Warrior)
MAKER: Rafael Mesa Oliva (1978- , Naolinco de Victoria)
CEREMONY: Fiesta de San Mateo (Danza de los Pilatos)
AGE: 2022
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; lacquer; adhesive; cotton cords

The Danza de los Pilatos, also called La Danza de los Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians), is an important celebration in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The dance reenacts the reconquest Spain from the Saracens by the European Christians. The dance arose from the teachings of missionaries as part of an effort to instill respect for and fear of the Spaniards in the indigenous peoples, and to convince them that the victory of Christianity over other faiths—by violence whenever necessary—was inevitable.

The dance is still performed widely in Mexico, including in Mexico State, Michoacán, Puebla, and Veracruz. Characters vary depending on locality, although they always include “Christians” or “Spaniards” and Moors. In Naolinco, Veracruz, the dance is performed on the holiday of the town patron saint, St. Matthew (Fiesta de San Mateo), celebrated on Sept. 20-21 every year.  There, Moors take many forms, including devils, pirates, clowns, or skeletons. Although most characters are evil, others, such as Apaches (representing indigenous Americans), are portrayed as Moors because indigenous peoples opposed the Catholic invasion of Mexico. This mask represents an Aztec cuauhtli, or eagle warrior.

For more on masks from Veracruz, see Bryan J. Stevens, Mexican Masks and Puppets: Master Carvers of the Sierra de Puebla (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Pub’g, 2012).



A brief video with highlights of the Danza de los Moros y Cristianos from Naolinco’s 2018 Fiesta de San Mateo.

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TITLE: Pilato Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Puebla
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Pilato (Pontius Pilate) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Danza de los Santiagueros
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Danza de la Conquista (Dance of the Conquest) in Mexico can refer either to the conquest of the Aztecs by the Spaniards or to the conquest (properly, reconquest) of Spain from the Saracens by the European Christians. This mask is used for reenacting the latter conquest, which is frequently and more correctly called the Danza de los Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians) or, in the state of Puebla, the Danza de los Santiagueros (Dance of the St. Jameses). This dance was shaped by missionaries as part of an effort to instill respect for and fear of the Spaniards in the indigenous peoples, and to convince them that the victory of Christianity over other faiths—by violence whenever necessary—was inevitable.

The dance is still performed widely in Mexico, including in Mexico State, Michoacán, Puebla, and Veracruz. Important characters include Spaniards, Moors (called either Moros or Pilatos), saints, angels, and devils.

For more on masks from Puebla, see Bryan J. Stevens, Mexican Masks and Puppets: Master Carvers of the Sierra de Puebla (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Pub’g, 2012).

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TITLE: Kanaval Devil
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Caribbean
COUNTRY: Haiti
ETHNICITY: Afro-Haitian
DESCRIPTION: Tiger Mask
MAKER: Michel Sinvil (1949- , Jacmel)
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

In Haiti, the French-speaking descendants of African slaves celebrate Carnival (Kanaval) with parades and parties. Due to the extreme poverty of the great majority of Haitian people, masks and costumes are mostly handmade from recycled or easily available materials. There are stock characters that appear at most celebrations, such as Chaloska and the horned Lanse Kòds, but participants are free to invent their own costumes.  A few expert artisans create more professional masks, but even these tend to be made of inexpensive materials, such as paper maché or wire mesh.

For more on Haitian Carnival, see Leah Gordon et al., Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti (London: Soul Jazz Pub., 2010).

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TITLE: Eldest Daughter Talchum Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Korea
SUBREGION: Yangju
ETHNICITY: Korean
DESCRIPTION: Jangnyeo (Eldest Daughter) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Byeolsandae Drama
FUNCTION: entertainment
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; stitching; cotton cloth

Sandae noli is a type of masking tradition from the Gyeonggi region near Seoul, Korea. It was traditionally performed on seasonal holidays as part of an annual village festival. The drama is accompanied by music played on a small samhyeon yukgak ensemble, consisting of three aerophones, one chordophone, and two membranophones. The full performance involves dozens of characters in different masks.

This specific mask represents the jangnyeo (장녀) eldest daughter of impoverished aristocrats.

For more on Korean masquerade, see Jeon Kyung-wook, Korean Mask Dance Dramas: Their History and Structural Principles (Gyeonggi-do, Rep. of Korea: Youlhwadang Pub. 2005).

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TITLE: Halloween Fred Flintstone Mask & Costume
TYPE: face mask; costume
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: Northeast
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Ben Cooper Fred Flintstone Mask and Costume
MAKER: Ben Cooper Inc., Brooklyn, New York, USA
CEREMONY: Halloween
AGE: 1973
MAIN MATERIAL (Mask): vacuformed styrene plastic
OTHER MATERIALS (Mask): paint; steel staples; elastic band
MATERIALS (Costume): pattern dyed vinyl sheeting

Halloween is one of the major secular festivals in the United States, celebrated on October 31st each year.  It originated in pre-Christian times, possibly among the ancient Celts, who practiced Samhain in late fall by wearing frightening costumes and lighting bonfires in mid-autumn to scare away ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1st as a day to honor all the saints collectively. The celebration prior to this All Saints Day became known as All Hallows’ Eve (hence the shortened name, All Hallowe’en, eventually elided to Halloween), and involved many of the same traditions practiced by the Celts.

Halloween formerly had many traditions that varied by region.  In modern and relatively homogenized practice, Halloween generally has three main components: costumed parties, “trick-or-treating,” and haunted houses.  Costumed parties are the modern descendant of social activities designed to honor the saints and create solidarity in the community. Children’s parties typically involved games with prizes, such as bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins and other relatively dry squash into frightening “jack-o-lanterns” with candles inside for illumination.  Adult parties commonly involve less innocent games and elaborate decorations to create a scary mood.

Trick-or-treating is the children’s practice of wearing scary costumes to extort candy and other sweets from neighbors. Like roaming goblins, the monsters visiting the house would demand a treat or threaten to play a nasty trick on the neighbor. The threat is of course a formality, as sharing candy with trick-or-treaters is considered a mandatory practice for friendly and community-spirited neighbors. In modern practice, many children have abandoned the tradition of wearing frightening costumes and have leaned toward fantasy characters such as superheroes, princesses, and fairies.

Haunted houses are a relatively modern innovation.  They may be designed and staffed by volunteers or for profit, and generally take the form of a decrepit mansion haunted by ghosts, mad scientists, monsters, the walking dead, etc. The idea is to inspire terror and wonder in a factually safe environment.

In addition, many Americans celebrate by watching horror movies (the release of which Hollywood times to coincide with the Halloween season), and in some regions, most notably Greenwich Village, Manhattan in New York and Salem, Massachusetts, major costumed parades are organized each year.  In many cities, “zombie walks” composed of masses of costumed zombies have been organized as well.

Popular masks and costumes include devils, zombies, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, mummies, witches, pirates, political figures, and characters from popular culture, such as Frankenstein’s monster. However, Halloween costumes can include almost anything, including inanimate objects and abstractions.  The choice is limited only by the imagination of the masquerader.  Masks and costumes depicting offensive racial stereotypes, popular prior to the 1980s, are no longer widely used.

This specific mask was mass produced by a process known as vacuform molding. Sheets of heated styrene plastic are placed over a three-dimensional mold and a vacuum sucks out the air, forming the plastic to the mold. The mask is then cut out, machine painted, and an elastic band is stapled to the mask. The process is exceedingly fast and inexpensive, making the mask very popular with the overwhelming majority of Americans from the late 1950s to today.

The mask and costume represent a fictional television cartoon character, Fred Flintstone. He was introduced in 1959 in a television series produced by Hanna-Barbera, loosely based on the early television series The Honeymooners (1955-56), but set in the stone age. The mask and costume were manufactured in 1973 by Ben Cooper Inc., a Brooklyn-based company that rose to become one of the largest Halloween costume manufacturers in the United States, from its founding in 1937 until its bankruptcy and closing in 1992, and the largest at the time this mask was produced.

For more on 20th century American Halloween costumes, see Phyllis Galembo, Dressed for Thrills: 100 Years of Halloween Costumes and Masquerade (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2002).

Click above to watch a documentary on Halloween in the United States.

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