TITLE: Huniyam Yakka Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Sri Lanka
ETHNICITY: Sinhalese
DESCRIPTION: Huniyam Yakka (Prince of Black Sorcery) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kolam Dance Drama
AGE: 1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: kadura wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; dyed cotton cloth

The Kolam theater of Sri Lanka emerged from shamanic healing and purification rituals to become a popular form of culturally embedded entertainment. The stories behind Kolam drama merge Sinhalese folk traditions with Buddhist Jataka stories, which tell of the former lives of the Buddha.  A Kolam 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, a 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 probably represents Huniyam Yakka, the prince of black sorcery.

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

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Click here to watch a video about Ache Lhamo, courtesy of the Tibetan Department of Culture.

TITLE: Rora Reema Aristocrat
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Tibet
ETHNICITY: Tibetan
DESCRIPTION: Aristocrat Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Rora Reema
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed fabric
OTHER MATERIALS: cardboard; silk tassels; yak fur; wooden beads; cowrie shells

Rora reema is the ritual Buddhist dance drama performed during Tibetan operas (Ache Lhamo). The opera has many masked characters, with the color of the mask’s face helping to indicate the actor’s role.  The black mask, called moqua, represent a hunter.  Yellow and white masks, in contrast, represents Dran Gsong, a saintly old hermit, or Tashi Chopa, a prosperous old man. A blue mask represents ngompa, the fisherman.  A red mask indicates a courtly aristocrat.  The Rora reema players tell stories in a chanting voice and dance acrobatically to drums and tambourines while wearing cloth masks.  At the end of the dance the crowd tosses handfuls of seeds into the air to propitiate the gods and pray for the peace and prosperity.

For more on Tibetan dance dramas, see Ellen Pearlman, Tibetan Sacred Dance: A Journey Into the Religious and Folk Traditions (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2002).

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TITLE: Chhau Colonist Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: India
SUBREGION: West Bengal
ETHNICITY: Bengali
DESCRIPTION: Mask Representing a Colonist
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Purulia Chhau Dance
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint

Chhau dance is a modern version of a classical Indian dance with tribal origins, originating in the Indian states of Jharkhand, Odisha, and West Bengal. The dance is usually structured around Hindu folk stories exalting the gods Shiva, Devi or Vishnu, and uses both elegant and martial techniques. The Purulia Chhau of West Bengal and the Serakeilla dance of Jharkhand most commonly use masks to identify the character portrayed.

This specific mask portrays a British colonist. It is not one of the original Chhau characters, and may represent a demonic or clown character for humorous effect.

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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: Javanese Klana
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Java
ETHNICITY: Javanese
DESCRIPTION: Klana Gandrung Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Topeng Dance Drama
AGE: ca. 1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Topeng dance drama of the island of Java centers around the political history of the region and are called Babad Dalem (Chronicles of the Kings) or Raket. The most popular story centers around the national hero Panji, whose consort Dewi Chandrakirana is abducted by the powerful King Klana Gandrung (also called Sewandana) of Bantarangin.

This specific mask represents King Klana and is used most commonly in the Cirebon Topeng in West Java.  The actor wearing the mask would be mute; instead, a dalang (controller) in the orchestra would speak his character’s lines for him.

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TITLE: Wayang Wong Ravana
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Bali
ETHNICITY: Balinese
DESCRIPTION: Ravana Mask
MAKER: Ida Made Sutiarka, Singapadu (1974- )
CEREMONY: Wayang Wong
AGE: 2018
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: leather; cotton; oil-based paint; gilded silver jewelry; rhinestones; mirrors; gold leaf; string

The Wayang Wong dance drama retells parts of the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These epics revolve around the god Rama and his battle with the demon king Ravana, who has abducted Rama’s wife, Sita. In the end, Rama retrieves her with the help of the wily monkey god, Hanuman.  This mask represents the antihero Ravana, whose nature is somewhat ambiguous in Hindu lore. On one hand, he is generally thought to have been a capable king. On the other, his evil deeds doom him to retribution at the hands of Rama and his allies.

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


Video of a Wayang Wong performance in Bali, Indonesia.

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TITLE: Lhakarpo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Bhutan
SUBREGION: Western Bhutan
ETHNICITY: Ngalop
DESCRIPTION: Lhakarpo Mask
MAKER: Dwha Tshering, Thimpu
CEREMONY: Cham Dance
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment; Social Control
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; paint

The Ngalop people inhabit western and central Bhutan and are originally of Tibetan origin. The ethnic group includes an estimated 710,000 persons.  The Ngalop are primarily Tibetan Buddhist, and their masks are typically worn at monastery celebrations known as Cham Dances to bless the sowing of the grain, pray for a bountiful harvest, and entertain the public.  This mask, representing the god Lhakarpo, who accompanies the god Choekyi Gyab (also known as Yama), the Lord of Death. Lhakarpo, who lived among men, assists Choekyi Gyab in judging the souls of the dead according to their good and evil deeds to determine how they will be reincarnated. Lhakarpo is considered the incarnation of good and advocate for mankind’s virtues. Along with his demonic counterpart, Due Nagpo (or Dey Nakchuag), he dances during and acts out morality plays for the education of the audience in Buddhist theology in the Raksha Mangcham, the Dance of the Judgment of the Dead.

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TITLE: Topeng Patih Manis
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Bali
ETHNICITY: Balinese
DESCRIPTION: Patih Manis (Prime Minister) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Tegallalah
CEREMONY: Topeng Dance Drama
AGE: 1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: goat hair and leather; paint; string; rubber band

The Topeng dance drama is an important traditional entertainment and education on the island of Bali, Indonesia. Its origin can be traced to the oral history of the Balinese people and venerable palm-leaf written histories, influenced by Hinduism imported from India. The dance may have originated as early as 840 CE. The stories depicted in this drama, called Babad Dalem, tell a political history of the islands of Bali and Java as written by the court poets of the regional kings.

This specific mask represents a character known as Patih Manis, who is the prime minister in the royal court. He has a mild temperament, which is reflected in his facial expression.

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: Topeng Kabo Iwo
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Bali
ETHNICITY: Balinese
DESCRIPTION: Kabo Iwo Mask
MAKER: Ida Ketut Berati, Singapadu (1967- )
CEREMONY: Topeng Dance Drama
AGE: 1987
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; pig teeth; human hair; gilded silver jewelry; semi-precious stones

The Topeng dance drama is an important traditional entertainment and education on the island of Bali, Indonesia. Its origin can be traced to the oral history of the Balinese people and venerable palm-leaf written histories, influenced by Hinduism imported from India. The dance may have originated as early as 840 CE. Most stories depicted in this drama, called Babad Dalem, tell a political history of the islands of Bali and Java as written by the court poets of the regional kings.

Other stories are folk tales. This specific mask represents a character known as Kabo IwoKabo Iwo is a cannibalistic giant and very rarely represented in Topeng drama.

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: Topeng Kodok
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Bali
ETHNICITY: Balinese
DESCRIPTION: Kodok (Frog Princess) Mask
MAKER: Ida Wayan Muka, Mas Ubud (1971- )
CEREMONY: Topeng Dance Drama
AGE: 2018
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; string; rubber straps

The Topeng dance drama is an important traditional entertainment and education on the island of Bali, Indonesia. Its origin can be traced to the oral history of the Balinese people and venerable palm-leaf written histories, influenced by Hinduism imported from India. The dance may have originated as early as 840 CE. Most stories depicted in this drama, called Babad Dalem, tell a political history of the islands of Bali and Java as written by the court poets of the regional kings.

Other stories are folk tales. This specific mask represents a character known as KodokKodok is a frog princess from an eponymous story (Kodok Ngokek). In the drama, Kodok‘s parents opposing her marriage to a frog prince (Godogan), who must win their approval. The mask was carved and painted by the master craftsman I. Wayan Muka.

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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