TITLE: Kwakwaka’wakw Rabbit
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: Canada
SUBREGION: British Columbia
ETHNICITY: Kwakwaka’wakw
DESCRIPTION: Rabbit Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Potlatch
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: red cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; beads; plant fiber

A potlatch is a culturally important ceremony among the coastal indigenous Americans of British Columbia, held on many different occasions.  It could be held to celebrate a family member’s change in social status, such as a marriage, birth, death, or initiation into adulthood.  It could also be held to restore a person’s prestige after a loss in dignity, such as falling out of a canoe or making a hunting error.  The ceremony could last for one day or as long as three weeks, depending on the occasion and the wealth of the giver.

A potlatch typically included three important components: a feast, entertainment, and gift giving to the guests.  The entertainment consisted of singing and masked dancing.  The more lavish the gifts, feast, and entertainment, the greater the prestige gained by the giver.  Because masks and costumes were expensive and time-consuming to make, larger and more elaborate masks raised the prestige of the potlatch giver.  The masks themselves represented totemic animals such as the killer whale, raven, beaver, or shark, or else mythical figures and beasts, such as the KomokwaDzunukwa or Bukwus. This mask represents the rabbit, a totemic animal important to the Kwakwaka’wakw people as a source of fur. As a cultural character, the rabbit was typically represented as a form of clown.

For more on masks of the coastal peoples of western Canada, see Peter MacNair, Robert Joseph & Bruce Grenville, Down from the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1998) and Edward Malin, A World of Faces: Masks of the Northwest Coast Indians (Portland: Timber Press, 1978).

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TITLE: Gracejo (?) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Mazatenango
ETHNICITY: Mayan (Q’eqchi’)
DESCRIPTION: Unknown mask, probably a gracejo (mox)
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Baile del Patzcar
AGE: Unknown
MAIN MATERIAL: hardwood
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

This mysterious mask is unfinished and most probably a gracejo (joker) or mox (fool) from southern Guatemala. Such masks are used in the Baile del Patzcar (Boss’s Dance). The Baile del Patzcar (Plantation Boss’s Dance) is the oldest Guatemalan dance still practiced today and evolved from a Mayan purification ritual.  In it, a dancer representing a female known as Lola performs a Mayan ritual using a white handkerchief to heal other masqueraders wearing rags and disease masks with gigantic thyroid goiters. Then gracejos representing ranch hands and carrying whips dance, comically whipping each other in mock fight over the love of the boss’s wife (Patzcarina).

This mask seems to have been abandoned before the carver had finished, possibly due to the extreme heaviness of the wood, which makes it impractical to wear during the dance.

For more on Guatemalan masks, see Jim Pieper, Guatemala’s Masks and Drama (University of New Mexico Press, 2006).

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TITLE: Convite Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Mazatenango
ETHNICITY: Mayan (Q’eqchi’)
DESCRIPTION: Convite Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Mazatenango
CEREMONY: Baile de los Convites
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Baile de los Convites (Dance of the Invited) is a ceremony that dates to the Spanish colonial period, but is probably the most mutable of all Guatemalan dances. The dance is performed on the annual holiday in honor of a town’s patron saint, and its name probably derives from the fact that celebrants from surrounding villages were invited to participate in larger towns.  It is unclear why masks and costumes became part of the dance, but the characters began as crude, handmade masks, and rapidly evolved to mimic characters from popular culture, including television, motion pictures, and video games.  Today, both mass-produced costumes and handmade costumes are used, often involving a considerable investment.  In some places, these dances are thinly-veiled status rituals—the more impressive the costume, the greater the credit for the dancer.

In the dance, captains (capitanos) organize the dancers into rows, and they dance in various configurations to the music of a marimba band.  Unlike in other Guatemalan dances, there is no plot or story, nor is there a predetermined form to the mask.

For more on Guatemalan masks, see Jim Pieper, Guatemala’s Masks and Drama (University of New Mexico Press, 2006).

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TITLE: Chamba Buffalo Crest
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Chamba
DESCRIPTION: Buffalo Crest Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Vara Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Funeral; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation; Status
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigment

The Chamba inhabit the region south of the Benue River in Nigeria and Cameroon.  They number in the range of 20,000 persons. Their religious beliefs are animistic, with a strong component of ancestor worship. Their masks, danced by the Vara Society at important events such as adult initiations for boys (circumcision ceremonies), important funerals, and the appointment of a chief, usually take the form of a buffalo with a wide open mouth, symbolizing the mythical origin of the Chamba people. They are worn atop the head with a raffia fiber suit covering the face and body. According to legend, the first Chamba originated with a magical buffalo woman who removed her animal skin to bathe in a lake. A young man saw her and hid her animal skin, and they married, producing the first Chamba people. The masks can be female (red colored) or male (black colored).

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TITLE: Kuba Pwoom Itok
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Kuba
DESCRIPTION: Pwoom Itok Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in the Kasai River region
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Status
AGE: 1950s-1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigments

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 pwoom itok mask represents remains a matter of some speculation, but it may have originally meant to depict a wise elder. The mask is used at the adult initiation rituals of boys. It would be worn with a cane, cloth, and feather headdress, and a cloth suit covered in cowrie shells to indicate high rank.

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TITLE: Bozo Fish Puppet Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Mali
ETHNICITY: Bozo
DESCRIPTION: Sogo Ba Fish Puppet Crest Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Sogo Ba
FUNCTION: Entertainment; Social Status
AGE: early 2000s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; cloth; hardware

The Bozo people of Mali inhabit the area along the Niger River and live predominantly by fishing. Many have been converted to Islam, but they nonetheless maintain animist beliefs and masking traditions today. Unlike other west and central African peoples, however, the Bozo do not use masks for important spiritual functions so much as for entertainment.  Masks and associated puppets (sometimes, the two are combined) entertain the village and raise the dancer’s social status through demonstrations of skill in mask making and dancing. The Sogo Ba ceremony is a masquerade of puppets danced by groups of young men who tell stories to music for the education and entertainment of the public. Fish puppet masks are especially popular with the Bozo, because fishing is crucial to the Bozo economy.

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TITLE: Convite Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Cobán
ETHNICITY: Mayan (Q’eqchi’)
DESCRIPTION: Convite Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Baile de los Convites
AGE: late 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: molded polyvinyl chloride
OTHER MATERIALS: cotton cloth; foam rubber; leather straps; human hair; glue; paint

The Baile de los Convites (Dance of the Invited) is a ceremony that dates to the Spanish colonial period, but is probably the most mutable of all Guatemalan dances. The dance is performed on the annual holiday in honor of a town’s patron saint, and its name probably derives from the fact that celebrants from surrounding villages were invited to participate in larger towns.  It is unclear why masks and costumes became part of the dance, but the characters began as crude, handmade masks, and rapidly evolved to mimic characters from popular culture, including television, motion pictures, and video games.  Today, both mass-produced costumes and handmade costumes are used, often involving a considerable investment.  In some places, these dances are thinly-veiled status rituals—the more impressive the costume, the greater the credit for the dancer.

In the dance, captains (capitanos) organize the dancers into rows, and they dance in various configurations to the music of a marimba band.  Unlike in other Guatemalan dances, there is no plot or story.  In Cobán by the late 1960s, PVC plastic had become a common building material and was easier to heat and shape over a simple mold than hand-carving a wooden mask. Because of the ease of making them and their relative novelty, such crude masks were briefly popular for convite dances during this period.

For more on Guatemalan masks, see Jim Pieper, Guatemala’s Masks and Drama (University of New Mexico Press, 2006).

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TITLE: Nuu-Chah-Nulth Killer Whale
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: Canada
SUBREGION: British Columbia
ETHNICITY: Nuu-Chah-Nulth (Nootka)
DESCRIPTION: Wii-iits-stan-uup Kaa-kaa-whii (Killer Whale) Mask
MAKER: Buddy George
CEREMONY: Potlatch
AGE: 2002
MAIN MATERIAL: red cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; string

The Nuu-chah-nulth, formerly known as the Nootka, originally inhabited the western coast of Vancouver Island.  One of their important rituals is the potlatch.  A potlatch is a culturally important ceremony among the coastal indigenous Americans of British Columbia, held on many different occasions.  It could be held to celebrate a family member’s change in social status, such as a marriage, birth, death, or initiation into adulthood.  It could also be held to restore a person’s prestige after a loss in dignity, such as falling out of a canoe or making a hunting error.  The ceremony could last for one day or as long as three weeks, depending on the occasion and the wealth of the giver.

A potlatch typically included three important components: a feast, entertainment, and gift giving to the guests.  The entertainment consisted of singing and masked dancing.  The more lavish the gifts, feast, and entertainment, the greater the prestige gained by the giver.  Because masks and costumes were expensive and time-consuming to make, larger and more elaborate masks raised the prestige of the potlatch giver.  The masks themselves represented totemic animals such as the killer whale, raven, beaver, or shark, or else mythical figures and beasts, such as the KomokwaDzunukwa or Bukwus.

For more on masks of the coastal peoples of western Canada, see Peter MacNair, Robert Joseph & Bruce Grenville, Down from the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1998) and Edward Malin, A World of Faces: Masks of the Northwest Coast Indians (Portland: Timber Press, 1978).

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TITLE: Lega Muminia Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Congo, Democratic Republic of
ETHNICITY: Lega
DESCRIPTION: Muminia Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Bwami Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Secret Society; Status
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay

The Lega people of the Democratic Republic of Congo use masks in a very wide variety of ways, but primarily for initiation into adulthood and to confirm status. The Bwami Society exercises authority over many aspects of social and religious life, including initiation.  All Lega masks are therefore Bwami Society masks. Small masks (lukwakongo) are used for identification and worn on the body or are hung on a fence to represent children of the ancestors. Larger masks, such as this muminia mask, are worn on the face or top of the head. The word muminia means “necessary for initiation” and is worn by both the lowest grade members of the Bwami Society and the two highest ranks (Yananio and Kindi).

For more on Lega masking traditions, see Daniel Biebuyck, Lega Culture: Art, Initiation, and Moral Philosophy among a Central African People (University of California Press, 1973).

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TITLE: Convite Mask (Child’s)
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Unknown
ETHNICITY: Mayan
DESCRIPTION: Convite Mask for a Child
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Baile de los Convites
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Baile de los Convites (Dance of the Invited) is a ceremony that dates to the Spanish colonial period, but is probably the most mutable of all Guatemalan dances. The dance is performed on the annual holiday in honor of a town’s patron saint, and its name probably derives from the fact that celebrants from surrounding villages were invited to participate in larger towns.  It is unclear why masks and costumes became part of the dance, but the characters began as crude, handmade masks, and rapidly evolved to mimic characters from popular culture, including television, motion pictures, and video games.  Today, both mass-produced costumes and handmade costumes are used, often involving a considerable investment.  In some places, these dances are thinly-veiled status rituals—the more impressive the costume, the greater the credit for the dancer.

In the dance, captains (capitanos) organize the dancers into rows, and they dance in various configurations to the music of a marimba band.  Unlike in other Guatemalan dances, there is no plot or story.  This mask was made for and used by a child, and is made to resemble the mouse Jerry from the popular cartoon television series Tom & Jerry, which was broadcast from 1940 until 1967.

For more on Guatemalan masks, see Jim Pieper, Guatemala’s Masks and Drama (University of New Mexico Press, 2006).

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