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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REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Portugal (Macau)
YEAR PRINTED: 1971
VALUE: 10 avos

This stamp is one of a pair issued by the Portuguese government in Macau, China in 1971 honoring the Chinese Lunar New Year festival. At the time, Portugal was nearing the end of its long-term lease on the port city, used as a trading post from the Ming Dynasty in 1557 and then conquered by force in 1887. The region was returned to China in 1999. This stamp depicts a Lion Dance body mask.

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REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Portugal (Macau)
YEAR PRINTED: 1971
VALUE: 5 avos

This stamp is one of a pair issued by the Portuguese government in Macau, China in 1971 honoring the Chinese Lunar New Year festival. At the time, Portugal was nearing the end of its long-term lease on the port city, used as a trading post from the Ming Dynasty in 1557 and then conquered by force in 1887. The region was returned to China in 1999. This stamp depicts a Dragon Dance body mask.

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TITLE: Lunar New Year Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Hong Kong
ETHNICITY: Han
DESCRIPTION: Mature Woman “Big Head” Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Lunar New Year
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint; cotton straps

The Chinese celebrate the lunar new year with lion dances, parades, and fireworks throughout the country.  Normally, the celebration begins on new year’s eve and lasts 15 days, and it provides an opportunity for entertainment, family reunion, honoring ancestors, and planning for the coming year. In the parade, armies of “big-headed Buddhas” clad in traditional silk costumes (or their modern polyester equivalents) follow the lion dancers.  They cavort for the entertainment of the audience and to bring good fortune in the coming year. Among these masqueraders are old man and old woman characters, such as the one represented by this mask. In modern Hong Kong, this is the largest festival of the year, and includes floats and decorations throughout the city.

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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: Lunar New Year Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Hong Kong
ETHNICITY: Han
DESCRIPTION: Young Girl “Big Head” Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Lunar New Year
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint; cotton straps

The Chinese celebrate the lunar new year with lion dances, parades, and fireworks throughout the country.  Normally, the celebration begins on new year’s eve and lasts 15 days, and it provides an opportunity for entertainment, family reunion, honoring ancestors, and planning for the coming year. In the parade, armies of “big-headed Buddhas” clad in traditional silk costumes (or their modern polyester equivalents) follow the lion dancers.  They cavort for the entertainment of the audience and to bring good fortune in the coming year. Among these masqueraders are old man and old woman characters, such as the one represented by this mask. In modern Hong Kong, this is the largest festival of the year, and includes floats and decorations throughout the city.

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TITLE: Monpa Arachako Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Tibet
ETHNICITY: Monpa
DESCRIPTION: Arachako Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Cham Dance
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: ca. 1930s
MAIN MATERIAL: teak wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Monpa people are a small ethnic group, estimated at around 78,000 persons, who inhabit Tibet, the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, and Bhutan. They are a nomadic people who rely heavily on grazing herds for subsistence.  The Monpa are primarily 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 a clown character known as Arachako, was sent by the Buddha along with Arachako’s wife to cheer up the people in times of gloom.

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

TITLE: Rora Reema Moqua
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Tibet
ETHNICITY: Tibetan
DESCRIPTION: Moqua Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Rora Reema
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed fabric
OTHER MATERIALS: cardboard; silk tassels; yak fur; 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: Tibet Lakhe
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Tibet
ETHNICITY: Tibetan
DESCRIPTION: Lakhe Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Divination; Healing; Purification; Spirit Invocation
AGE: late 19th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: traces of pigment

Shamanic masks arise from animistic religious beliefs rather than Hindu or Buddhist influences. The shamanic influence in Himalayan societies probably arrived from Mongolian nomadic invaders.  The aspiring shaman must depart the community and live in isolation to commune with nature spirits. If the aspirant succeeds, he or she returns to the village with supernatural powers to invoke ancestor and nature spirits that can be either malevolent or protective and turn them to the good of the community.  This gives the shaman healing and divination powers that are used in major life events, such as births, illness, marriage, or death.  Masks are worn during these ceremonies to help the shaman mediate between the material and spiritual worlds.

This mask appears to represent Lakhe, a local demon with a connection to the Hindu god Indra.

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TITLE: Tibet Shaman Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Tibet
ETHNICITY: Tibetan
DESCRIPTION: Shaman Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Divination; Healing; Purification; Spirit Invocation
AGE: Unknown
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment

Shamanic masks arise from animistic religious beliefs rather than Hindu or Buddhist influences.  The shamanic influence in Himalayan societies probably arrived from Mongolian nomadic invaders.  The aspiring shaman must depart the community and live in isolation to commune with nature spirits. If the aspirant succeeds, he or she returns to the village with supernatural powers to invoke ancestor and nature spirits that can be either malevolent or protective and turn them to the good of the community.  This gives the shaman healing and divination powers that are used in major life events, such as births, illness, marriage, or death.  Masks are worn during these ceremonies to help the shaman mediate between the material and spiritual worlds.

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