TITLE: Maringuilla Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Michoacán
ETHNICITY: Purépecha
DESCRIPTION: Maringuilla (Little Mary) Mask
MAKER: Manuel Horta Ramos, Tocuaro
CEREMONY: Pastorela
AGE: 2015
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; maque; plastic eyelashes; metal and enamel earrings

The Pastorela is the ceremonial dance drama of Michoacán state in Mexico. Pastorelas, performed in February during the Shrovetide season, are primarily religious in significance. The main characters of the Dance of the Shepherds are the Devil, the Archangel Michael, shepherds, and a hermit (who paradoxically represents the ancestors of the performers).  The drama revolves around the attempts of Lucifer and his demon minions to steal the baby Jesus.  Other dramas performed on the occasion include the Dance of the Negritos (dance of the little blacks), relating to the importation of African slaves into Mexico by the Spaniards, and which includes an army of elegantly dressed “little Maries” (Maringuillas), like the one represented by this mask, and feos, or ugly clowns.

This mask was carved by Manuel Horta, one of a famous extended family of carvers from the town of Tocuaro, in 2015.

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TITLE: Vejigante
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Caribbean
COUNTRY: Puerto Rico
SUBREGION: Ponce
ETHNICITY: Mestizo
DESCRIPTION: Vejigante Mask
MAKER: Miguel Caraballo Jr., Ponce
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: 2015
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint

The Carnival paraders of Ponce, Puerto Rico traditionally use paper maché masks with multiple horns and sharp teeth, accompanied by colorful and frilly costumes, to represent fantastic devils. Most consider that the more horns a mask has, the better.  Formerly, participants carried an inflated goat or cow bladder (vejiga) on a string with which to bop passers-by on the posterior.  This is how the character got its name, vejigante (bladder-carrier). Today, goat bladders are in short supply, and this practice is rare. Vejigantes nonetheless remain an indispensable part of the Ponce Carnival.

A unique feature of the Ponce carnival is that it includes the burial of a giant symbolic sardine, carried by a parader dressed as a friar and another dressed as a hooked sardine.  The sardine symbolizes the Carnival itself, and the burial marks its end.

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TITLE: Lombok Topeng Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Lombok
ETHNICITY: Sasak
DESCRIPTION: Sasak Topeng Mask
MAKER: Unknown carver, collected in Mataram
CEREMONY: Topeng Dance Drama
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: candelnut wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Topeng dance drama centers around the political history of the region and are called Babad Dalem (Chronicles of the Kings). Although Topeng is best known on the islands of Java and Bali, it has also made its way to the Sasak people of Lombok. Topeng masks from this region exhibit characteristics of both Javanese and Balinese styles, with elements unique to the Sasak as well. The character represented by this mask is unclear, but the mask is well used.

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TITLE: Hanuman Reamker Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Cambodia
ETHNICITY: Khmer
DESCRIPTION: Hanuman Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Reamker Dance Drama
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: paste; gilding; mirrors; paint

Reamker is the Cambodian adaptation of the Hindu epic from India, the Ramayana. It is performed for public entertainment and features paper maché helmet masks on most male characters.  This specific character is Hanuman, the monkey god who plays the central role in assisting Rama (sometimes rendered “Phreah Ream” in Khmer), the hero of the epic, to recover his wife, who was abducted by the demon king Ravana (Krong Reap in Khmer).

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TITLE: Austrian Perchtenmaske
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Austria
ETHNICITY: Tyrolean
DESCRIPTION: Perchtenmaske (Krampus Mask)
MAKER: Josef “Sepp” Seidl, Sankt Veit im Pongau (1975- )
CEREMONY: Perchtenlauf
AGE: 2009
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: goat horns; mesh; glass eyes; paint; horse hair

Perchtenlauf is a Tyrolean winter festival equivalent to the old Norse Yule.  In many parts of Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy, in mid-December the town organizes a parade of Perchten, or demons who represent evil spirits (known in Germany as Krampus).  The Perchten wear frightening horned masks with sharp teeth and long, lolling tongues, typically in a suit of goat skin with loud cowbells attached to their belt.  Their function is to accompanying St. Nicholas, who reward good children with treats and presents, while the Perchten punish bad children by beating them with birch switches or throwing them into wicker baskets on their backs to carry down to Hell for punishment.

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TITLE: Female Huehue
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Puebla
ETHNICITY: Nahua & Mixtec
DESCRIPTION: Female Huehue Mask
MAKER: Magno León, Huetlalpan (1914-1977)
CEREMONY: Danza de los Huehues
AGE: ca. 1950
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; elastic bands

Huehue means village elder.  The Danza de los Huehues predates the Spanish conquest and is believed to have begun around Day of the Dead, when village elders helped the widows to find shelter after their husbands died in battle.  Some believe the dance originated in Tlaxcala or Huasteca and spread to Puebla.  The Devil is a character added by way of Catholic influence; he is charged with harassing the dancers and audience during the performance.

Most huehue masks are male, but some female huehues such as this one are danced as well.  The dance is typically held in late June, in honor of a patron saint.

This mask was carved by a master sculptor and used for many years. One former owner so prized the mask that he painted his initials, J.L.L., on the inside.

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: Totsakan Khon Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Thailand
SUBREGION: Bangkok
ETHNICITY: Thai
DESCRIPTION: Totsakan (Green) Khon
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ramakien Dance Drama
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; gilding; mirrors; paint; mother-of-pearl teeth; wooden fangs

The Ramakien is the Thai adaptation of the traditional Hindu epic from India, the Ramayana.  Most male characters in the drama wear masks fashioned from paper maché and elaborately gilded, decorated, and painted.

This mask represents the demon king Totsakan, also written Tosakanth (or Ravana in Hindi), who is supposed to have 100 faces and 20 hands. His face is green during most of the play, but when he ascends to power his face turns gold.  Totsakan is the villain at the center of the Ramakien, as he abducts Sita, the beautiful wife of the hero, King Rama.  The remainder of the play focuses on Rama’s efforts, with his loyal demigod ally Hanuman, to rescue Sita and punish Totsakan.

For more on Thai khon masks, see Natthapatra Chandavij & Promporn Pramualratana, Thai Puppets and Khon Masks (Bangkok: River Books, 1998).

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TITLE: Waggis Carnival Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Switzerland
SUBREGION: Basel
ETHNICITY: Swiss
DESCRIPTION: Waggis (Alsation) Carnival Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fasnacht (Carnival)
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; plastic hair; wool hat

Fasnacht is what the Tyrolean Swiss call Carnival.  In many towns in Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy, local folk don elaborate masks and costumes to parade through the town.  Different towns have variations on the parade, such as the Schemenlaufen of Imst, the Schellerlaufen of Nassereith, and the Muller and Matschgerer of Innsbruck, Austria.

In Basel, Switzerland, masks are almost all made of paper maché and take a helmet form. Armies of costumed clowns, musicians, and dancers, called cliques, parade around town in uniform mask styles for 72 nearly continuous hours on the Monday following Ash Wednesday. The paraders must wear their Larven (masks) throughout the parade and are expected never to remove the mask in order to identify themselves.  They throw confetti at crowd members with such proliferation that it blankets the streets.

Although there is a great deal of innovation and creativity in mask styles, there are certain styles that tend to reappear annually. This mask, known as Waggis, represents a big-nosed, frizzy-haired clown, who wears wooden clogs, a blue shirt, and a red neckerchief. He is a prankster who parodies the Alsatian farmers who formerly came to Basel market days to sell their produce (Waggis literally means a person from Alsace in Basel dialect). It was worn for several decades and retired after the 2010 parade.

Other common characters include the Alti Dante (old aunt), Dummbeeter (trumpetist) and Pierrot (a sad clown from the late Italian Commedia dell’Arte, known for his white and black makeup).

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TITLE: Kyōgen Ko-Tengu
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Ko-Tengu (Celestial Dog) Kyōgen Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kyōgen Theatre
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: laquer; paint; bronze sheet

The tengu is a legendary being very important to Japanese mythology, found in both folk tales and Shinto and Buddhist religious doctrines. Despite the reference to dog in the creature’s name (“celestial dog”) and origin, it is also associated with a predatory bird. The role of the tengu is ambiguous, with some sources treating it as a demon and others as a protective demi-god. Its form, too, varies between that of a large bird of prey and a brightly-colored human, nearly always with an exceptionally long nose.

The tengu is a popular masked character in Kyōgen theatre as well. Kyōgen is a traditional form of Japanese comic theatre, usually performed in village celebrations or as interludes between traditional Noh dramas. Kyōgen is performed by both masked and unmasked characters, whose role is defined in each traditional play. The actors are accompanied by flute, drum and gong music, but Kyōgen emphasizes dialogue and action over song or dance. In these plays, the tengu typically plays the role of trouble-maker (sometimes dupe) or mystical protector.


To watch a short documentary about Japanese Nogaku (Noh drama and Kyogen plays), click above.

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TITLE: Lunar New Year Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Hong Kong
ETHNICITY: Han
DESCRIPTION: Elderly Woman “Big Head” Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Lunar New Year
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint; dyed polyester fabric

The Chinese celebrate the lunar new year with lion dances, parades, and fireworks throughout the country.  Normally, the celebration begins on new year’s eve and lasts 15 days, and it provides an opportunity for entertainment, family reunion, honoring ancestors, and planning for the coming year. In the parade, armies of “big-headed Buddhas” clad in traditional silk costumes (or their modern polyester equivalents) follow the lion dancers.  They cavort for the entertainment of the audience and to bring good fortune in the coming year. Among these masqueraders are old man and old woman characters, such as the one represented by this mask. In modern Hong Kong, this is the largest festival of the year, and includes floats and decorations throughout the city.

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