TITLE: Chinelo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Morelos
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Chinelo Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: 1984
MAIN MATERIAL: metal wire mesh
OTHER MATERIALS: metal strips; dyed ixtle fiber; oil-based paint

The Carnival of Morelos typically features the popular figure of fun, the chinelo, a Spanish version of the Nahuatl word zineloquie, or “disguised.” As occurred in many parts of Mexico, dances developed during Carnival as a means of expressing indigenous resentment of the European colonists.  In Morelos, the primary object of frustration was the sugar cane plantation, in which native labor was exploited while Spanish colonists enriched themselves. The chinelos represent a grotesque caricature of the invaders, with their fancy clothing, fair skin, elaborate facial hair, and arrogant mannerisms. Chinelo costumes are especially elaborate, often made to resemble velvet or satin, with bright and intricate designs in beads, sequins, fur, and feathers covering the robe and hat.  The dance of the chinelos, called the brincón (“hop”), is a series of repetitive, energetic hops to the fast-paced blare of drums, and of brass and woodwind instruments.

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TITLE: Chinelo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Morelos
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Chinelo Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: metal wire mesh
OTHER MATERIALS: metal strips; dyed ixtle fiber; oil-based paint

The Carnival of Morelos typically features the popular figure of fun, the chinelo, a Spanish version of the Nahuatl word zineloquie, or “disguised.” As occurred in many parts of Mexico, dances developed during Carnival as a means of expressing indigenous resentment of the European colonists.  In Morelos, the primary object of frustration was the sugar cane plantation, in which native labor was exploited while Spanish colonists enriched themselves. The chinelos represent a grotesque caricature of the invaders, with their fancy clothing, fair skin, elaborate facial hair, and arrogant mannerisms. Chinelo costumes are especially elaborate, often made to resemble velvet or satin, with bright and intricate designs in beads, sequins, fur, and feathers covering the robe and hat.  The dance of the chinelos, called the brincón (“hop”), is a series of repetitive, energetic hops to the fast-paced blare of drums, and of brass and woodwind instruments.

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TITLE: Chivo
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Guerrero
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Chivo
MAKER: Unknown maker in San Roque, Mochitlán
CEREMONY: Carnaval de Chivos
AGE: ca. 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; goat horns; oil paint; dyed straw

In parts of Guerrero, multicolored goat masks are worn to celebrate the Carnaval (or Danza) de Chivos.  The goats, almost always played by young men, dance in a group to brass instrument and drum music wearing long headdresses of straw. Some chivos play percussion instruments as they dance.  The dance is usually performed in honor of the patron saint of the village.

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TITLE: Chivo
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Hidalgo
ETHNICITY: Otomi
DESCRIPTION: Chivo Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker from San Bartolo Tutotepec
CEREMONY: Carnaval de Chivos
AGE: 1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: hardwood
OTHER MATERIALS: goat horns; goat leather & hair; paint; glitter; glue; iron nails; wire; dyed polyester ribbons; brass bells

The chivo, or goat, is a popular Carnival character in the villages of El Nante and San Bartolo Tutotepec, Hidalgo. Nearly all chivo masks have the same comical and half-sinister expression, twisted nose, lined face, and goat horns pointed upward. The horns are decorated with wires holding ribbons, bells, and tassels (in this case, partially restored later). Older masks like this one are painted with subdued colors, while newer masks tend to be brighter. At some point, the owner of this mask glued glitter to the outside, which over time flaked off.

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TITLE: Chivo
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Hidalgo
ETHNICITY: Otomí
DESCRIPTION: Chivo Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker from San Bartolo Tutotepec
CEREMONY: Carnaval de Chivos
AGE: 1950s or 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: hardwood
OTHER MATERIALS: goat horns; goat leather & hair; paint; glitter; glue; iron nails

The chivo, or goat, is a popular Carnival character in the villages of El Nante and San Bartolo Tutotepec, Hidalgo. Nearly all chivo masks have the same comical and half-sinister expression, twisted nose, lined face, and goat horns pointed upward. The horns are normally decorated with wires holding ribbons, bells, and tassels (in this case, missing). Older masks like this one are painted with subdued colors, while newer masks tend to be brighter.

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TITLE: Clown Mask (Child’s)
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Child’s Mask of a Payasita (Female Clown) or Novia (Girlfriend)
MAKER: Rafael Mesa Oliva (1978- , Naolinco de Victoria)
CEREMONY: Carnival; Fiesta de San Mateo (Danza de los Pilatos)
AGE: 2013
MAIN MATERIAL: equimite wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; string

The novia or girlfriend and payasita (little female clown) are popular Carnival characters in Mexico, almost always danced by a man wearing a female clown costume or some other feminine attire. In Naolinco, Veracruz, she may also be danced in the Danza de los Pilatos, also called La Danza de los Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians), which is an important celebration in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The dance reenacts the reconquest Spain from the Saracens by the European Christians. The dance arose from the teachings of missionaries as part of an effort to instill respect for and fear of the Spaniards in the indigenous peoples, and to convince them that the victory of Christianity over other faiths—by violence whenever necessary—was inevitable.

The dance is still performed widely in Mexico, including in Mexico State, Michoacán, Puebla, and Veracruz. Characters vary depending on locality, although they always include “Christians” or “Spaniards” and Moors. In Naolinco, Veracruz, the dance is performed on the holiday of the town patron saint, St. Matthew (Fiesta de San Mateo), celebrated on Sept. 20-21 every year.  There, Moors take many forms, including devils, pirates, clowns, or skeletons. Some of the characters are not obviously evil, such as Apaches (representing indigenous Americans) or this payasita, but they are portrayed as Moors nonetheless. This specific mask is slightly smaller than the adult size and was danced by older children.

For more on masks from Veracruz, see Bryan J. Stevens, Mexican Masks and Puppets: Master Carvers of the Sierra de Puebla (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Pub’g, 2012).


A brief video with highlights of the Danza de los Moros y Cristianos from Naolinco’s 2018 Fiesta de San Mateo.

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TITLE: Cojó Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Tenosique, Tabasco
ETHNICITY: Chontal
DESCRIPTION: Cojó Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Tenosique
CEREMONY: Danza Correr del Pochó
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

During Carnival and the saint’s holiday of Tenosique, local Chontal people perform La Danza Correr del Pochó, or less formally, El Pochó.  El Pochó is a pre-Christian god that the missionaries tried to characterize as evil.  As a result, modern festivals end in the defeat and burning of Pochó. The Danze del Pochó has three main characters: cojóes, the pochoveras, and the tigres.  They dance to the music of native flutes and drums.

Cojóes are men who represent the first Chontal people, created from the pulp of maize. The cojó masks, such as this one, are always made of wood and have a distinct streamlined style with a sloping nose. The reason for the mask is said to be that Pochó immediately considered human beings his enemy, and so the Chontals wore masks so that Pochó could not recognize them. The costume consists of a coarse coat, a cloth mantle, a skirt of leaves, and a straw hat decorated with large leaves, flowers, and chewing gum boxes. They carry a long rattle shaped like a thick stick filled with changala seeds.

The pochoveras are priestesses of the god Pochó and keep a fire burning on his alter. Pochoveras also wear a hat with leaves and flowers.

The tigres, called balandes in the Chontal language, are masked characters who paint their body with white clay and black spots made of coal to simulate the jaguar pelt. They may also wear an animal skin. The role of the tigres is to attack the cojóes with the help of the pochoveras, on behalf of Pochó. However, the cojóes inevitably win, defeating the tigres and extinguishing Pochó’s fire.

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TITLE: Cojó Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Tenosique, Tabasco
ETHNICITY: Chontal
DESCRIPTION: Cojó Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Tenosique
CEREMONY: Danza Correr del Pochó
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

During Carnival and the saint’s holiday of Tenosique, local Chontal people perform La Danza Correr del Pochó, or less formally, El Pochó.  El Pochó is a pre-Christian god that the missionaries tried to characterize as evil.  As a result, modern festivals end in the defeat and burning of Pochó. The Danze del Pochó has three main characters: cojóes, the pochoveras, and the tigres.  They dance to the music of native flutes and drums.

Cojóes are men who represent the first Chontal people, created from the pulp of maize. The cojó masks, such as this one, are always made of wood and have a distinct streamlined style with a sloping nose. The reason for the mask is said to be that Pochó immediately considered human beings his enemy, and so the Chontals wore masks so that Pochó could not recognize them. The costume consists of a coarse coat, a cloth mantle, a skirt of leaves, and a straw hat decorated with large leaves, flowers, and chewing gum boxes. They carry a long rattle shaped like a thick stick filled with changala seeds.

The pochoveras are priestesses of the god Pochó and keep a fire burning on his alter. Pochoveras also wear a hat with leaves and flowers.

The tigres, called balandes in the Chontal language, are masked characters who paint their body with white clay and black spots made of coal to simulate the jaguar pelt. They may also wear an animal skin. The role of the tigres is to attack the cojóes with the help of the pochoveras, on behalf of Pochó. However, the cojóes inevitably win, defeating the tigres and extinguishing Pochó’s fire.

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TITLE: Conquista Malinche
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Guerrero
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Malinche
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Danza de la Conquista
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: brass earrings; oil paint

The Danza de la Conquista (Dance of the Conquest) is a ceremony performed in many parts of Mexico, as well as Central and South America. It has two stories, one European and one indigenous. The European relates to the reconquest of Spain from the Islamic Moors by the Spanish monarchy. The indigenous relates to the conquest of the Americas by the Spaniards. This mask is from the second kind, and represents Malinche (properly, Malinalli), a noble Aztec maiden sold into slavery by her mother to the Mayans, then resold to the conquistador Hernán Cortés along with other girls. When he discovered Malinche spoke Nahuatl as well as Mayan, he used her as an interpreter in making the alliances with local peoples that ultimately led to the subjugation of all of Mexico. She and Cortés eventually became lovers, and she bore a son for him, but when Cortés’ wife arrived in Mexico, he married her off to another Spaniard.

The indigenous view of Malinche is mixed. Some view her as a heroine who helped turn Mexico to Catholicism, while others view her as a betrayer.  Either way, she plays an important role in the dance retelling the conquest of Mexico.

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TITLE: Cora Tiznado Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Nayarit
ETHNICITY: Cora
DESCRIPTION: Tiznado (Judio) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Semana Santa (Holy Week)
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: watercolor paint

The Cora people of Nayarit resisted Spanish colonization and proselytization long after most of Mexico succumbed, and their pre-Christian traditions still survive with a thin veneer of Catholicism. Traditionally, the Cora worship three gods, associated with the sun, the moon, and corn.

During the Semana Santa (Holy Week), Cora men paint their bodies with black and white stripes and wear judio (Jew) masks (also called borrados) designed to look like monsters and devils that carry swords and persecute the sun god, who takes the Catholic form of Jesus of Nazareth. The character is called tiznado (“covered with ash”). On Good Friday, the judios capture and kill the sun god, who is resurrected the next day and banishes the judios.

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