TITLE: Hawaiian Makini
TYPE: face mask; accessory
COUNTRY: Hawaiian Kingdom (presently in the United States of America)
SUBREGION: Hawaiian Islands
ETHNICITY: Polynesian (Hawaiian)
DESCRIPTION: Makini Helmet Mask and Gourd Rattle
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Makahiki
FUNCTION: Agriculture
AGE: late 20th century
OTHER MATERIALS: raffia fiber; rooster feathers

Before the conquest of the Hawaiian Islands, members of the priestly caste wore helmets like this one to honor the god Lono, who conferred fertility on the land, and at the Makahiki harvest festival. It may also have been worn by the Warrior Society that protected the chief. This mask is a reproduction; the original masks would have had a crest made of sedge leaves and the strips at the bottom would have been made of tapa (cloth made from the pounded bark of trees).


TITLE: Barong Ket
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Indonesia
DESCRIPTION: Barong Ket Mask
MAKER: Ida Wayan Tangguh (Singapadu, 1935-2016)
CEREMONY: Barong Dance; Japatuan; Basur
AGE: 2012
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: glass rhinestones; mirrors; buffalo leather; paint; gilding; human hair; gold-plated silver ornaments; brass bells

Barong masks are some of the most important cultural artifacts in Bali.  The Barong is a mythical beast that purifies and protects the village. The mask itself is a sacred object of worship and usually kept in a temple. Barong masks are taken out to perform dances and ceremonies on major holidays, most notably the Kunti Sraya, or Barong Dance. That dance recreates a contest between good (represented by the Barong and its followers) and evil (represented by the goddess of death, Rangda, and her followers).

Barongs come in many types, depending on the type of animal represented.  Barongs may take the form of a boar, bull or deer, for example. This mask, the barong ket, represents a mythical beast combining attributes of the tiger, ox, and some unique attributes. It is sometimes erroneously referred to as a lion (there are no wild lions in Indonesia, and never have been any, so the Balinese would not have been able to use one as a template for their masks). The ket is the chief of all barongs and acts as a potent protector against the harmful influence of ghosts on the village.

This specific barong ket was the last one made by the master craftsman, I. Wayan Tangguh of Singapadu, before he died.

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

Video of a Barong Ceremony in Bali, Indonesia, 2018.


TITLE: Ekoi Antelope Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Nigeria
DESCRIPTION: Antelope Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Obassinjom Society
FUNCTION: Protection/Purification; Secret Society
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIALS: wood; antelope leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; brass tacks; cane; jute rope; kaolin clay

The Ekoi people, also known as the Ejagham, inhabit the extreme southeastern region of Nigeria and parts of Cameroon. They are a hunting and farming people who live in scattered communities. Each community has a Ngbe or Ekpo (Leopard) Society that helps coordinate political and social events.

Most Ekoi masks take the form of a helmet or crest that sits atop the head. Unlike the masks of other African peoples, Ekoi masks are covered in leather. In the distant past, the skin of killed slaves was used, but now antelope leather is common. Animal masks such as these are used by the Obassinjom Society, dedicated to detecting and combating witchcraft and sorcery. The mask is fixed to the dancer’s head, adorned with feathers, and danced in a long, blue cloak adorned with magical charms.


TITLE: Barong Macan
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Indonesia
DESCRIPTION: Jero Gede Macaling Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Barong Landung Dance
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: horse hair; gold-plated silver ornaments; paint

The Jero Gede Macaling represent a human-like Barong supposed to be the male ancestor of the Balinese people, of Malayo-Indian origin. His appearance reflects demonic influence, but he is in fact harmless, because of the restraint exercised on him by his wife, Jero Luh, who represents a Chinese ancestor of the Balinese. Together, the Jero Gede and Jero Luh are paraded around the village to exorcise evil spirits, in a ritual known as the Barong Landung.

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


TITLE: Iban Shaman Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Malaysia
SUBREGION: Borneo (Sarawak)
ETHNICITY: Dayak (Iban)
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Purification
AGE: 1930s
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigment

Not much is known about the masked ceremonies of the Iban people of Sarawak, Borneo Island. This mask dates to the 1930s, possibly earlier, and represents a demon.  It has affinities to the masks of other Dayak peoples elsewhere on Borneo. Such masks were most probably used to drive away evil spirits from the village during important ceremonies, such as funerals, and from crop fields.


TITLE: Kali Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Sri Lanka
ETHNICITY: Sinhalese
DESCRIPTION: : Kali Amma Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kolam Natima
AGE: mid-twentieth century
MAIN MATERIAL: kadura (Strychnox nux vomica) wood

The masked dance of Sri Lanka developed from shamanic healing and purification rituals, and  split along two lines.  The first, Yakun Natima, is the healing dance performed by a shaman.  Each demon (yakku) represents a specific disease or ailment, and to invoke the demon, the shaman wears a mask depicting the symptoms or symbols of the disease. When performing as a group, a character known as Kola Sanni Yakka, who is a kind of amalgamation of all diseases, presides over the demons.

The second line, Kolam Natima is a storytelling dance drama involving 40 masked characters of very diverse types. The story originates in a myth of a pregnant Sinhalese queen who develops a craving to see masked dances. She begs her husband, the king, to arrange it, but he knows of no such dances. At his request, the god Sekkria, one of the four guardian gods, carves the masks and teaches the people how to perform the dance. They perform for the royal audience, and the baby is consequently born strong and healthy. The stories told with the masks are not a single cohesive narrative, but a series of stories that merge Sinhalese folk traditions with Buddhist Jataka stories, which tell of the former lives of the Buddha.

A Kolam Natima performance begins with ritual addresses to gods and the Buddha. What follows is a prologue showing brief stock, mostly comical, scenes from traditional Sri Lankan society.  Finally, the king and the queen in very large masks enter with their retinue, whence they watch the dance.  The performance ends with the dance, typically involving Gara demons, Nagas (snake demons) and the Garuda (a Naga-eating god-bird) who were eventually reconciled by the Buddha. The performance is intended to purify the village and to spread prosperity.

This mask represents Kali Amma, a god who leapt from Durga’s brow in order to kill certain demons, but became so battle raged that she began killing everything in her path until Shiva stopped her by throwing himself under her feet. Kali is considered another side of Durga, but destructive and evil, and so she appears black and ferocious, with fangs.

For more on the masks of Sri Lanka, see Alain Loviconi, Masks and Exorcisms of Sri Lanka (Paris: Éditions Errance, 1981).


TITLE: Shamanic Mask
TYPE: face mask
SUBREGION: Middle Hills
ETHNICITY: Gurung or Magar
DESCRIPTION: Yak leather shamanic mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Healing; Purification
AGE: mid-twentieth century
MAIN MATERIAL: scraped yak leather

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.


TITLE: Kwele Ekuk Mask
TYPE: face mask
DESCRIPTION: Ekuk Plank Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Be’ete Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Funeral: Protection; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1960s
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay

The Kwele, also known as Kwese, people of Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo now live between the Dja and Ivindo rivers. Social control is exercised by the Be’ete (or Bwete) Secret Society, which uses masks to adult initiation rituals, funerals, and protection of the village from malicious spirits.  The masks embody protective bush spirits, with the antelope a dominant presence among them.  Kaolin clay is nearly always used in Kwele masks, because its white color has spiritual meaning to the Kwele.

This specific mask represents an ekuk, or forest spirit.


TITLE: Yaqui Pasko’ola Mask
TYPE: face mask
DESCRIPTION: Mañor mask of a smiling goat
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Pasko’ola
FUNCTION: celebration; entertainment; funeral; protection
AGE: late 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: cottonwood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; string; horse hair

The Yaqui and related Mayo people inhabit the desert in the Mexican state of Sonora and southern Arizona. Their religious beliefs are a syncretic version of traditional animist practices and Jesuitical Catholicism. The pasko’olas (in the Spanish, pascolas) were malignant spirits, or children of the Devil, whom God won in a game. For that reason, their masks frequently have crucifixes and they wear a belt with twelve bells, each representing an apostle. To symbolize their evil origins, the masks have ugly expressions and vermin such as lizards, snakes and scorpions painted on them. In addition, dancers wear cords and butterfly cocoons on their legs, representing snakes and their rattles. They also wear a flower on their head, to symbolize rebirth and spring. They frequently play the role of clowns, provoking laughter in the audience by mimicking animals, reversing gender roles, organizing mock hunts, and making jokes.

Pasko’olas are danced at every major religious festival, as well as at birthdays, weddings, and funeral celebrations. For example, in Vicam, pasko’olas have traditionally danced on Día de San Juan Bautista (June 24). Sometimes a group of pasko’olas will be accompanied by a deer dancer, who dances with a taxidermy deer head as a crest. Generally, only men are pasko’ola dancers, but women have sometimes been allowed to dance with the permission of the male dancers.


TITLE: Old Man Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Moldova
ETHNICITY: Romanian-Moldovan
DESCRIPTION: Bătrânească (Old Man) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Campanesti; Mastile; Carnival
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Celebration; Hunting; Protection/Purification
AGE: 1980s
OTHER MATERIALS: sheep’s wool; cow horns; paint; hardware

In Romanian and Moldovan folk traditions, many kinds of masks are used at planting time and during the celebrations of Lent prior to Christmas, and during Carnival.  Some are used for caroling, while others originate in pre-Christian rituals of appeasing the gods for a rainy spring, bountiful harvest, or successful hunt.  Only men may wear such masks.  This mask represents an old man (Bătrânească) and is a popular Carnival character.