TITLE: Maonan Nuo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Guangxi
ETHNICITY: Maonan
DESCRIPTION: Nuo Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Nuo Opera
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment; Healing; Purification
AGE: 1930s
MAIN MATERIAL: poplar or willow wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; animal hair; adhesive; cotton cloth strips

The Nuo opera in China may be traced back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), possibly much earlier (some believe the Shang and Zhou Dynasties) and was popular in large parts of the empire, but especially along the southern borders, where it was a form of entertainment for the imperial troops. It evolved from a sacrificial rite performed by shamans into a more dramatic form, with both Buddhist and Taoist overtones. Nuo opera is based on historical stories and stories based on the Taoist religion and all roles (including female roles) are performed by men. It evolved into a popular form of entertainment and was eventually accompanied by an orchestra of Chinese instruments.  The Nuo opera never quite lost its shamanic connection, however, and also was used to exorcise evil spirits at the home of sick persons. The sacred connection is evident from a religious ceremony that always precedes the opening of a Nuo opera.  In addition, a wooden statue representing the originator of the opera is present at every performance, and nobody except the opera troupe may touch props used in the performance. Although the Chinese Communist Party attempted to suppress Nuo performances and eliminated it from most of the country, the opera continues to be performed in three southern provinces of China today (Guangxi, Guizhou, and Jiangxi).

The Maonan people form a relatively small ethnic group in China, confined largely to Guangxi province, and it is one of several ethnic groups that adopted Nuo opera deeply into its culture. This mask probably represents a senior government official.

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TITLE: Iroquois Corn Husk Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: Canada
SUBREGION: Québec
ETHNICITY: Iroquois
DESCRIPTION: Corn Husk (Bushy Head) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Healing; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: braided corn husks
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

The Iroquois League (Haudenosaunee) historically inhabited the northeastern regions of the United States and eastern Canada, before being displaced by Dutch and British settlers.  They maintain tribal lands in Ontario and Quebec today, reserved by treaty.

Most Iroquois nations had three medicine societies, one of which was the Society of Husk Faces.  Among the important rituals of the Society are celebration of the Midwinter Festival using the “Bushy Heads” or corn husk masks. They represent earthbound spirits from the other side of the world, where the seasons are reversed (which, in fact, they are south of the Equator). The beings taught the Iroquois the skills of hunting and agriculture. They perform predominantly two dances, known as the Fish Dance and the Women’s Dance. Unlike the False Face dancers, Husk Face dancers are mute. Like the False Face dancers, they can cure the ill by blowing hot ash or sprinkling water on their patients.

The Bushy Heads can be male or female, young or old.  Either men or women may dance in the Husk Face Society, and sometimes they choose masks of the opposite gender to the amusement of the audience.

For more on Iroquois masking traditions, see William N. Fenton, The False Faces of the Iroquois (University of Oklahoma Press, 1987).

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TITLE: Seri (Comcaac) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Sonora
ETHNICITY: Seri (Comcáac)
DESCRIPTION: Shamanic Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Bahia de Kino
CEREMONY: Shamanic Rituals
FUNCTION: healing (?)
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; animal bones; adhesive; string

The Seri people of Sonora, Mexico call themselves Comcáac. They live primarily on Shark Island (Isla Tiburón) in the Gulf of California, and the adjacent mainland of Sonora (Punta Chueca and El Desemboque). Despite invasive Spanish colonialism and periodic Mexican assimilation movements, they have maintained their traditions even today. Traditionally, they lived as preliterate hunter-gatherer bands of fifty individuals or fewer, with no tribal organization. They primarily engage in commercial fishing today.

Like many indigenous groups in the region, the Seri engaged in face painting and had shamans who played important roles in healing the sick and protecting the people. Very little is known of their masking traditions, but they were reported by R.W.H. Hardy in the early nineteenth century to have worn deer and mountain lion masks on some occasions, and to have carved wooden masks.  This specific mask may have been made by a shaman for use in healing the sick, and would have been worn with a fringe of ixtle fiber.

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TITLE: Shamanic Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Nepal
SUBREGION: Middle Hills
ETHNICITY: Gurung or Magar
DESCRIPTION: Shamanic Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Healing; Purification
AGE: 1890s-1920s
MAIN MATERIAL: smoked wood
OTHER MATERIALS: animal fat; animal hair; natural adhesive

This mask originates in the middle hills area of the Himalaya mountains, either from the Gurung or Magar people. Such masks are among the most primitive in use in the world, and are made by carving wood, coating it with yak butter fat, and charring it over a smoky fire.

The shaman plays an important social role as the channeler of spirits for healing, purification, and protection of those under his supervision. Masks help the shaman embody one of the spirits that surround the living world and use it to heal the sick, drive away evil influences, and guide villagers through changes in their lives (birth, adulthood, changes in social status, death) that might be affected by the spirit world. When hung in a house, the mask serves a protective function.  The Magar and Gurung people use very similar masks for identical purposes.

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TITLE: Yup’ik Inua Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: Alaska
ETHNICITY: Yup’ik
DESCRIPTION: Inua Owl Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Healing; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; snow goose feathers

The Yup’ik (or Yupik) people inhabit western and southern Alaska and the Chukotka region of Russia. They currently number some 24,000 individuals who survive in some of the harshest climates of the world. The Yup’ik survived by hunting caribou, rabbits, and marine mammals, especially walrus, seals, and whales. Their traditional religious beliefs are shamanistic, based on the belief that certain animals and birds are sacred. Their masked rituals are oriented toward ensuring a successful hunting and giving thanks for past hunts, storytelling, and healing ceremonies by shamans (angalkuq).

The masks are typically made of wood, decorated with feathers, and painted with only a few colors. They could be carved by men or women under the direction of a shaman. Masks were formerly destroyed after use. Christian proselytization has suppressed the use of masquerade in Yup’ik cultures today, but it continues in some segments of the population.

This mask depicts an inua, in the form of an owl. An inua is one of the natural spirits that inhabit humans or animals interchangeably. Appeasing the inua by showing respect and gratitude was considered essential to successful hunts.

For more on Yup’ik masking traditions, see the excellent monograph by Anne Fienup-Riordan, The Living Tradition of Yup’ik Masks (University of Washington Press 1996).

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TITLE: Pende Mbuya Jia Muketu
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of the Congo
ETHNICITY: Pende
DESCRIPTION: Mbuya Jia Muketu (Young Woman’s) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Bandundu
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Entertainment; Healing; Protection/Purification
AGE: 1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: bark cloth; plant fiber; pigment

The Pende people have many different kinds of masks. This mask belongs to a group called mbuya jia muketu among the central Pende, and gambanda among the eastern Pende. Mbuya masks are usually made of wood, like this one. This type represents the ideal beauty of a young female Pende, whose appearance and disposition qualify her to marry a high-ranking Pende male. Such masks are typically performed with restrained movements. Mbuya jia muketu masks form an important component of public entertainments during sowing and harvest celebrations, but they may also be danced to pray to ancestors to heal a sick chief or to protect or cure the village during epidemics.

This mask was field collected in Bandundu in the 1950s, probably before being used significantly.

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TITLE: Yao Shaman Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Yunnan
ETHNICITY: Yao
DESCRIPTION: Shamanic Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Shamanic rituals
FUNCTION: healing; hunting; protection; spirit invocation
AGE: ca. 1910s
MAIN MATERIAL: charred wood
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

The Yao people inhabit southern China and northern Vietnam, with small enclaves in Thailand, Burma, and Laos. They have syncretic Daoist and animist religious beliefs. Yao shamans use wooden masks to invoke god spirits for protection or successful hunting expeditions. Shamans may also use the masks to heal the sick.

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TITLE: Iroquois False Face Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: Canada
SUBREGION: Ontario
ETHNICITY: Iroquois (Onandaga)
DESCRIPTION: Broken Nose False Face Mask
MAKER: Gene Thomas, Wolf Clan, Six Nations Reserve, Ontario (1958- )
CEREMONY: Divination; Healing; Purification; Secret Society
AGE: 2010
MAIN MATERIAL: white pine wood
OTHER MATERIALS: copper sheet; horse hair; paint

The Mohawk people (Kanien’kehá-ka) belong to the Iroquois League (Haudenosaunee) and historically inhabited western New York state, as well as parts of Quebec and Ontario, before being displaced by Dutch and British settlers.  They maintain tribal lands in Ontario and Quebec today, reserved by treaty.

Most Iroquois nations, including the Onandaga, had three medicine societies, one of which was the False Face Society.  It is probably no longer a secret society, because although its membership is limited to initiates who have been cured by the Society or had an important dream, most persons in modern Iroquois communities are apparently aware of the Society’s membership.

Among the important rituals of the False Face Society are village purification of diseases, the healing of sick persons, and facilitation of dream fulfillment during the midwinter festival. The masks worn by the Society take a variety of forms, mostly with blowing lips to blow healing ashes on a sick patient.  The copper eyes convey the spirituality of the mask.

For more on Iroquois masking traditions, see William N. Fenton, The False Faces of the Iroquois (University of Oklahoma Press, 1987).

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TITLE: Buddhist God Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Nepal
SUBREGION: Kathmandu Valley (?)
ETHNICITY: Newar (?)
DESCRIPTION: Buddhist God Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Unknown
AGE: ca. 1970s-1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: charred wood
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

Very little is known about this mask. It may come from the Newar people of the Kathmandu Valley. It represents a god with two faces, one displaying Buddhist calm and contentment, and the other protective ferocity.

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TITLE: Kuikuro Kalapolo Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Brazil
SUBREGION: Mato Grosso
ETHNICITY: Kuikuro
DESCRIPTION: Kalapolo (Otter Spirit) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Alto Xingú
CEREMONY: Aga
FUNCTION: Healing; Spirit Invocation
AGE: early 2000s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: palm fiber; pigment

The Kuikuro people of the Amazon rain forest populate the Xingú River region of the Mato Grosso state of Brazil. During the Aga mask ceremony, masked Kuikuro shamans invoke forest and water spirits such as the river otter to cure the ill. In the Kuikuro belief system, water and forest spirits (itseke) cause disease and death, and only shamans can intervene to propitiate them. Such masks are worn without eye holes.

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