TITLE: China Morena
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Bolivia
SUBREGION: Oruro
ETHNICITY: Quechua and Aymara
DESCRIPTION: China Morena
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Carnival (La Morenada)
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: linen covered with plaster
OTHER MATERIALS: mirrors; paint

The Morenada (Dance of the Moors) is an annual ceremony in several towns in the Altiplano region of Bolivia, Peru, and northern Chile, usually incorporated into Carnival.  The dance includes both male and female Moors dancing in a group with whips, rattles, or scepters. A King of the Moors (Rey de Morenos) presides and coordinates the dance. The dance typically occurs in the course of a parade, with marching bands playing musical scores for the dancers.  The precise origins of the Morenada are the subject of debate, with most specialists concluding that the dance was inspired by African slaves brought to Bolivia to work the mines or the subsequent integration of Africans into the Yungas community near La Paz.  The morena wears a fancy version of the traditional Bolivian costume with the classic bowler hat.

This mask represents a china morena, or female Moor, made in the 1960s by the then-dominant method of laying linen cloth over a clay form, then applying plaster and allowing it to set.  The mirrors used for teeth are intended to exaggerate the shininess of the morena‘s enamel and enhance her beauty.  The actual dancer wearing the mask may be male or female.

For more on Bolivian masquerade, see Peter McFarren ed., Masks of the Bolivian Andes (La Paz: Editorial Quipus/Banco Mercantil SA, 1993).

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TITLE: Negro Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Michoacán
ETHNICITY: Purépecha
DESCRIPTION: Negro
MAKER: Unknown carver from Sevina, Michoacán
CEREMONY: Danza de la Negrada
AGE: ca. 2000
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint

The Danza de la Negrada is performed in modern Michoacán among the Tarascan Indians (known as the Purépecha people) during the winter season to celebrate the Christmas holiday. The negros, as you see, are not necessarily “black men.” The masqueraders are actually known in the Purépecha language as turías or turíachas, who are spirits that control the air. “Black” refers not merely to color, but alludes to the idea of elegance and sophistication, and ultimately refers to anyone who is not an indigenous person.  It can therefore refer to European peoples as well, as this mask obviously does.

The best description of the dance is given by Janet Brody Esser in her excellent book, Behind the Mask in Mexico, with relation to a dance in Cherán, Michoacán:

“For the dance, the Blackmen arrange themselves in two files, leaving a clear area in between from four to twelve feet, depending on available space. The leaders, known as la letra and el segundo, recite stylized couplets recounting the birth of Jesus. . . . The leaders pace between the two files of dancers while reciting the verses, which are in Spanish. They delivered in a somewhat stilted manner with regularly recurring emphases and stylized gestures.  At intervals each Blackman joins his neighbor in the file and performs a slow waltz or sprightly polka. . . . The Blackmen begin dancing at the home of the carguero [the person charged with carrying the statue of the Holy Infant] at about nine p.m. on Christmas Eve and continue until after Midnight Mass, which they attend. They accompany the image of the Holy Child as it is carried through the streets to the church. . . . Beginning at ten or eleven on the morning of Christmas Day, the day after Christmas, and on January 1, Blackmen dance at homes of past and present cargueros. They also dance at the municipal building in honor of civic officials. Throughout the dancing, with the exception of Midnight Mass, they are accompanied by girls from ten to fourteen years of age wearing elaborately decorated sombreros. The dancers are given gifts of fruit and sugarcane by each host, which the townspeople explain are foods appropriate for children in a feast that is for the Holy Child.”

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TITLE: Azteca Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Azteca (Aztec warrior)
MAKER: Unknown maker in Cruz de Ataque
CEREMONY: Danza de la Conquista; Carnival
AGE: ca. 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; hardware; plant fiber

The Danza de la Conquista, or Dance of the Conquest, is a traditional celebration in many parts of Mexico.  The dance takes two forms. One retells the conquest of Spain by the Spanish monarchy from the Moors, finally achieved in 1492 and properly called the Reconquista. The other retells the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. This mask belongs to the second story. It represents a Spaniard coming into contact with his Aztec enemy.  The Azteca mask is also worn during Carnival.

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TITLE: Rey Moro Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Ecuador
SUBREGION: Latacunga
ETHNICITY: Mestizo
DESCRIPTION: Rey Moro (King Moor) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fiesta de la Mama Negra
AGE: 1920s-1930s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment

The Fiesta de la Mama Negra (Festival of the Black Mama) is a celebration held in September and again in early November in Latacunga, Ecuador. The event originates in pre-colonial indigenous practices and was adapted to honor the Virgin of Mercy (Virgen de la Merced) after Catholic conversion, in thanks for her supposed  intervention to protect the population from eruptions from the nearby Cotopaxi volcano.  The festival has become one of the most important in Latacunga, and includes a parade (comparsa) featuring the Mama Negra prominently as an African version of Mary, mother of Jesus.

Other important masks include animals, the Rey Moro (King Moor, showing the influence of the Conquistadors), angels, clowns (payasos abanderados), shamans (huacos), and miscellaneous other characters.  This mask, dating back to the early twentieth century, most probably represents the Rey Moro, judging by the Islamic star on his forehead.

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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: 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: Tigre Crest
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Suchiapa, Chiapas
ETHNICITY: Mayan
DESCRIPTION: Tigre (Tiger) Crest Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Danza del Calalá
AGE: 1970s-80s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; cotton cloth; thread; plastic eyes; metal staples

In Suchiapa, Chiapas, the Danza del Calalá (Dance of the “Celestial Deer” in the Chacoan language) is performed on Corpus Christi using wooden or gourd helmet masks with a cloth cowl. The dancer looks through a hole in the cloth and simulates combat with other dancers in a less brutal version of the Batalla de los Tigres in Guerrero. The dance originated before the Spanish conquest and involves several other masked characters , including the calalá (deer), the biblical Goliath, gigantillo (little giant, representing Goliath’s nemesis David), and Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent god of the Maya). The dance is performed to indigenous music of drums and reed whistles, and it ends when the tigres revolt.

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TITLE: Maligno / Demonio
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Bolivia
SUBREGION: Oruro
ETHNICITY: Quechua and Aymara
DESCRIPTION: Demon (Maligno / Demonio) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Carnival (La Diablada)
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: linen covered with plaster
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; animal teeth; paint; plant fibers; glass eyes

The Diablada is an important part of Carnival in several towns in the Altiplano region of Bolivia, Peru, and northern Chile.  The Diablada of Oruro, Bolivia, is famous for the large numbers of participants and the elaborateness of their masks and costumes.

The dance dates back to pre-colonial times and was adapted under the influence of the Spanish missionaries to conform to the Catholic doctrine of the struggle between good and evil.  The dance begins with the Archangel Michael commanding personified seven virtues against Lucifer and his personified seven deadly sins and an army of male and female devils.  This mask represents one of the seven deadly sins.  Other non-European characters, such as the Andean Condor and the jukumari bear, also play a role.

The dance typically occurs in the course of the parade, with marching bands playing musical scores dating back to the 17th century.  In practice, the dance includes both male and female devils dancing in a group led by (rather than opposed by) the Archangel Michael.  The mask itself dates to the 1960s and was made by the then-usual technique of putting linen cloth over a fired clay mold, then applying plaster and letting it set.  This mask was used in the Diablada as one of Michael’s troops.

For more on Bolivian masquerade, see Peter McFarren ed., Masks of the Bolivian Andes (La Paz: Editorial Quipus/Banco Mercantil SA, 1993).

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TITLE: Vaquero Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Solalá
ETHNICITY: Mayan (K’ich’e)
DESCRIPTION: Vaquero (Cowboy) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Baile del Torito
AGE: 1940s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; glass eyes

The Baile del Torito  (Dance of the Little Bull), also called the Danza del Torito, is an annual ceremony in several cities of central and southern Guatemala, usually during a holiday in honor of the town’s patron saint. The dance is accompanied by music from a marimba band.

The dance dates back to the 17th century. It tells the story of a cattle ranch in which the caporal or mayordomo (foreman) prohibits the vaqueros (cowboys) like this one to interact with a bull. The cowboys get the foreman drunk and perform bullfights. Eventually, a bull kills the foreman and the dance ends.

The dance frequently begins before sunrise and lasts for up to 12 hours. It may be performed for many days, sometimes over a week. Depending on the size of the town, there may be only one or several bulls and caporales, and up to 50 vaqueros. In some towns, such as Chichicastenango, there is both a white caporal and a black one. The costume of the vaquero is brightly colored and elaborate, with a hat sporting thick clusters of dyed ostrich feathers. In some towns, the vaquero carries a cape and maraca (rattle). The players of each character are chosen through Mayan rituals and are blessed by an Ai-lj (Mayan priest) before 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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