TITLE: Yoruba Gelede Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Yoruba
DESCRIPTION: Gelede Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Gelede Society
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

The highly populous Yoruba people inhabit much of Nigeria and parts of Benin. The Gelede Society originates in cultural myths about Yemoja, the mother of all living things, who could not conceive children until she learned a dance with a wooden image on her head. The Gelede is named after Yemoja’s chubby daughter, and the dance therefore has a close connection with fertility rites. Nonetheless, the Gelede ceremony performs diverse functions in Yoruba society, including to pray for rain, purify the village of disease, to enlist spiritual help in wartime, and to honor the dead.

This mask was culturally used, probably in the 1980s, in a Nigerian community.

For more on the Gelede ceremony, see Babatunde Lawal’s incomparable monograph, The Gelede Spectacle (University of Washington Press, 1996).

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TITLE: Son de Diablos Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Peru
SUBREGION: Lima
ETHNICITY: Afro-Latino
DESCRIPTION: Diablo
MAKER: Unknown maker, probably in Cusco
CEREMONY: Son de (los) Diablos Dance, Corpus Christi
AGE: ca. 1910
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Son de Diablos (or Son de los Diablos), the “Song of the Devils,” is an Afro-Latino dance developed in Peru by the descendants of African slaves in Lima, possibly as early as 1800.  Despite its ties to Corpus Christi celebrations in the Andean region, the Catholic Church banned the dance in 1817.  Nonetheless, its practice continued abated, finally experiencing a revival in the 1950s.  Masqueraders typically emerge in a large group and do an energetic dance to special music for the occasion.

This mask was made around 1910 in Lima and was used there for many years.

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TITLE: Achachi Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Bolivia
SUBREGION: Oruro
ETHNICITY: Quechua and Aymara
DESCRIPTION: Achachi (Foreman) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Carnival (La Morenada)
AGE: 1980s-1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: tin sheet
OTHER MATERIALS: cotton cloth; plant fibers; wire; paint; dyed ostrich feathers

The Morenada (Dance of the Moors) is an annual ceremony in several towns in the Altiplano region of Bolivia, Peru, and northern Chile, usually incorporated into Carnival.  The dance includes both male and female Moors dancing in a group with whips, rattles, or scepters. A King of the Moors (Rey de Morenos) presides and coordinates the dance. The dance typically occurs in the course of a parade, with marching bands playing musical scores for the dancers.  The precise origins of the Morenada are the subject of debate, with most specialists concluding that the dance was inspired by African slaves brought to Bolivia to work the mines or the subsequent integration of Africans into the Yungas community near La Paz.  The morena wears a fancy version of the traditional Bolivian costume with the classic bowler hat.

This mask represents an achachi, an old, bald man who previously worked as a captain or slave-driver under a colonial landowner.  The achachi may be represented as a black or white man (as here), but in either case he has a long, aquiline nose, bushy beard, cruel expression, and elaborate costume.

This specific mask was fashioned by a skilled mask-maker (caretero) in Oruro in the 1980s or 1990s. By this time, mask makers had ceased using linen soaked in plaster for their masks and begun using shaped tin or steel sheet, often recycled from old oil drums.  Hand painting had also begun to give way to spray painting; both techniques were used on this mask.

For more on Bolivian masquerade, see Peter McFarren ed., Masks of the Bolivian Andes (La Paz: Editorial Quipus/Banco Mercantil SA, 1993).

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TITLE: Ogoni Helmet Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ogoni
DESCRIPTION: Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; cloth straps

The Ogoni people have managed to maintain much of their precolonial culture, including their masquerading traditions.

Masks are used by the Ogoni for many purposes.  Some are mainly for entertainment, and this may be one such mask.  This exceptionally large helmet (measuring 49 cm tall and 31 cm wide) would give the appearance of an oversized head on the dancer’s body.  Atop the head is a bowl, in which the dancer would probably put fruit.  Like women in many developing countries, Ogoni women balance heavy loads skillfully on their heads to reduce the burden on their arms.

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TITLE: Telek Luh Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Bali
ETHNICITY: Balinese
DESCRIPTION: Telek Luh
MAKER: Ida Wayan Muka, Mas Ubud (1971- )
CEREMONY: Barong Dance
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: colored glass; gold-plated silver ornament; paint; rubber band

The Barong Dance, named after its main protagonist, recreates a contest between good (represented by the Barong and its followers) and evil (represented by the goddess of death, Rangda, and her followers).  This specific mask represents one of the Barong’s retinue, known as Telek Luh.  Telek Luh is rarely performed, but she appears in the dance called Sandaran as the spiritual embodiment of feminine refinement.  The mask was carved and painted by the master craftsman I. Wayan Muka of Mas Ubud, Bali.

For more on Balinese masks, see Judy Slattum, Masks of Bali: Spirits of an Ancient Drama (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992).

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TITLE: Cajun Mardi Gras
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUB-REGION: Acadiana, Louisiana
ETHNICITY: Cajun
DESCRIPTION: Burlap Mardi Gras Mask
MAKER: Chris Raymond (Metairie, Louisiana, 1964- )
CEREMONY: Courir de Mardi Gras
AGE: 2014
MAIN MATERIAL: jute burlap
OTHER MATERIALS: steel wire mesh; brass bells; polyester border and fringe; glue; paint; elastic band

In Catholic practice, Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the last day of celebration of Carnival before the fasting period of Lent. In the Acadiana country of southern Louisiana, the descendants of French Canadian immigrants known as “Cajuns” (short for “Acadians”) celebrate Mardi Gras in a manner quite different from the better known Carnival of New Orleans.  The Courir de Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras parade) occurs in most towns of Cajun country only on Mardi Gras itself.

Masqueraders wear full or partial wire mesh masks and quilted suits with tall, conical hats covered in colorful fabric.  They either ride from farm to farm on horseback or drive as a group in trucks with an unmasked leader wearing the traditional Mardi Gras colors of green, purple, and gold.  When they reach a farm, the captain, who carries a whip in one hand and a white flag in the other, approaches the farmer and asks: “Le Mardi Gras demande votre permission pour visiter ta maison” (“The Mardi Gras requests permission to visit your house”), or words to that effect. Upon assent, the revelers descend and run or crawl toward the house, singing a begging song, then exploding into pranks and comedic antics while the captain tries to subdue them with his whip. The only way to make them leave is to donate gifts or money, traditionally a chicken for the evening gumbo, in which the farmer is invited to partake.

For more on the Acadian Carnival celebration, see the excellent book by Carl Lindahl and Carolyn Ware, Cajun Mardi Gras Masks (University Press of Mississippi, 1997).


A short video featuring Cajun Mardi Gras in Eunice, Louisiana, 2019.

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TITLE: China Morena
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Bolivia
SUBREGION: Oruro
ETHNICITY: Quechua and Aymara
DESCRIPTION: China Morena
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Carnival (La Morenada)
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: linen covered with plaster
OTHER MATERIALS: mirrors; paint

The Morenada (Dance of the Moors) is an annual ceremony in several towns in the Altiplano region of Bolivia, Peru, and northern Chile, usually incorporated into Carnival.  The dance includes both male and female Moors dancing in a group with whips, rattles, or scepters. A King of the Moors (Rey de Morenos) presides and coordinates the dance. The dance typically occurs in the course of a parade, with marching bands playing musical scores for the dancers.  The precise origins of the Morenada are the subject of debate, with most specialists concluding that the dance was inspired by African slaves brought to Bolivia to work the mines or the subsequent integration of Africans into the Yungas community near La Paz.  The morena wears a fancy version of the traditional Bolivian costume with the classic bowler hat.

This mask represents a china morena, or female Moor, made in the 1960s by the then-dominant method of laying linen cloth over a clay form, then applying plaster and allowing it to set.  The mirrors used for teeth are intended to exaggerate the shininess of the morena‘s enamel and enhance her beauty.  The actual dancer wearing the mask may be male or female.

For more on Bolivian masquerade, see Peter McFarren ed., Masks of the Bolivian Andes (La Paz: Editorial Quipus/Banco Mercantil SA, 1993).

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TITLE: Commedia dell’Arte Pantalone
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Italy
ETHNICITY: Italian
DESCRIPTION: Don Pantalone Mask
MAKER: Alan G. Newman, Ubud, Bali (b. London, England)
CEREMONY: Commedia dell’Arte; Carnival
AGE: 2012
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; goat hair; elastic strap

The Commedia dell’Arte was a form of public entertainment that succeeded the classical Roman theater in Italy.  Like classical theater, Commedia performers wore leather masks to represent stock characters and often performed in amphitheaters to large audiences.  However, the Commedia differed in having only a very basic plot sketch, with most of the lines invented extemporaneously by the actors.  The Commedia‘s ability to stay topical and its frequent resort to vulgar humor, combined with the considerable talent of Italian troupes that traveled throughout Europe, made this form of theater extremely popular throughout the early 17th to late 19th centuries. Masked actors had to compensate for their inability to convey facial emotion through posture, gesture, and vocal nuance.

Don Pantalone was long among the most popular stock characters of the Commedia. Pantalone is a money-grubbing business man, now old and retired, and apt to fall absurdly in love with young women.

This specific Pantalone comes from classically trained mask maker Alan G. Newman.

To learn more about Commedia dell’Arte, see Pierre Louis Duchartre, The Italian Comedy (Dover Pubs., 1966).

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TITLE: Kuba Bwoom
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Kuba
DESCRIPTION: Bwoom Crest Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Funeral; Status
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: copper sheet; cloth; cowrie shells; beads; plant fiber

The Kuba people inhabit the area south of the Kasai River.  Although the Kuba have some two dozen mask types, those still in use today are mostly the three royal masks, whose use is reserved to those given permission by the quasi-divine king (nyimi). These are danced mainly as a form of entertainment reinforcing the status of the royalty and at chiefly funerals.  The adult initiation (mukanda) masks are now rarely used in Kuba society.

What the bwoom mask represents varies among Kuba storytellers. Some refer to it as a younger brother of the king, while others represent it as an outsider or commoner. The copper sheeting is a spiritual substance among many African peoples, and among some represents status or royalty. However, in Kuba society, only gilded metal is reserved for the nyimi.  As a force opposing the other two royal masks, bwoom must be content with copper.  The bwoom dance, unlike other royal dances, is energetic and exuberant.

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TITLE: Fasnet Gschell Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Germany
SUBREGION: Rottweil
ETHNICITY: Swabian (German)
DESCRIPTION: Gschell Narro
MAKER: Helmut Kramer
CEREMONY: Fasnet (Carnival)
AGE: ca. 1970s-1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil paint; horsehair; satin ribbons; mirrors

In many parts of Swabia and Bavaria, Carnival (usually called Fasnet or Fastnet in this region of Germany) is celebrated with parades of masked clowns (Narren).  The clown parade (Narrensprung) is organized by guilds, all members of which wear similar costumes and masks.  Each town has its own guilds, with some overlap in styles of Narro.  Like this one, most are creepy in an inimitably Germanic way. Their purpose is to usher in the spring with joy and laughter.

Carnival in Rottweil extends back at least to the 14th century, and the Gschell—the smiling, childlike clownis probably the oldest and most dominant character of Fasnet in Rottweil. They appear in white linen costumes with as many as six leather belts holding large bells, which he makes ring by walking with a bouncy step (Jucken). In the past, they also wore three fox tails on their hood, a practice that has been fortunately discontinued with increasing enlightenment about animal rights, and sausages on his wrist as a symbol of fertility. The Gschell also wears a horsehair wig (Rosshaarkranz) with ribbons and mirrors to satirize vanity.

This specific mask was carved by the late master, Helmut Kramer of Rottweil.

Regrettably, the best text on Carnival in Bavaria and Swabia is still available in German only: Heinz Wintermantel’s Hoorig, hoorig isch die Katz (Würzburg: Konrad Theiss, 1978).

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