TITLE: Carnival Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Chiapas
ETHNICITY: Mayan
DESCRIPTION: Español (Spaniard) Carnival Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: 1988
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; glass eyes; animal hair eyelashes; hardware

Carnival is celebrated throughout the Catholic world with parades and other festivities, often including masqueraders. It is the celebration before the fasting season of Lent. In Chiapas, as in many other parts of Mexico, Carnival is celebrated with masked dances and parades. This character represents an Español, or Spaniard, whose light skin, green eyes, and golden blond beard was an innovation to the dark skinned, brown eyed, black haired Mayans.

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TITLE: Parachico
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Chiapas
ETHNICITY: Mayan
DESCRIPTION: Parachico Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Chiapa del Corzo
CEREMONY: Fiesta de San Sebastián
AGE: 1988
MAIN MATERIAL: cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil paint; glass eyes

The Baile de los Parachicos is unique to Chiapas, the southernmost region of Mexico, and is most commonly performed in Chiapa de Corzo and Suchiapa.  It may have pre-Columbian origins, but its modern version is believed to originate in the myth of a wealthy Spanish noblewoman whose sick child could not be cured by doctors in Guatemala. She eventually brought him north to Chiapas, and a Mayan priest recommended she bathe in the healing waters of Cumbujuyú for nine days.  After the child recovered, the woman held a feast of thanksgiving and her servants danced for the children. Hence the name, parachico, meaning “for the little boy.”  In modern times, the parade is held during the holiday of St. Sebastian, the patron saint of Chiapa de Corzo.

The dance begins with a parade of the parachicos through the streets led by a patrón, or boss, whose mask is somewhat more elaborate than usual. All parachicos wear black pants with colorful embroidered designs, white shirt, a bright sarape, black leather boots, and they carry a tin rattle (sonaja).  As they parade, they echo phrases shouted by the leader, such as:

¡Vivan los que ya no pueden, muchachos!” (“Long live those who can’t do it any longer, boys!” or “Long live the elders!”)

¡Viva el gusto de nosotros, muchachos!” (“Long live our shared tastes, boys!” or “Long live our traditions!”)

¡Viva la mano poderosa, muchachos!” (“Long live the powerful hand, boys!” or “Long live God’s will!”)

¡Viva la pandilla rica, muchachos!” (“Long live the rich gang, boys!” or “Long live the parachicos!”)

They may also shout out more or less improvised verses, devout or comical, such as “Little mermaid, little mermaid, sea mermaid, Praise the Holy One and señor St. Sebastián” or “Passing by your window, you threw me a lemon, the lemon hit my face, and went straight to my heart.”

They then perform a group dance to the sound of drums and marimba, guitar, or other instruments. Women in brightly colored floral dresses may accompany them in less formal dances.

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TITLE: Fieros Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Escuintla
ETHNICITY: Mayan (Q’eqchi’)
DESCRIPTION: Fieros Mask of Grumpy the Dwarf
MAKER: Unknown maker in Palin
CEREMONY: Baile de los Fieros
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Baile de los Fieros (Dance of the Wild Ones) is performed on Corpus Christi in the streets of some small towns in Guatemala in the course of a parade. The dancers precede the town priest and the image of the town’s patron saint beginning at the church and circulating around town. The dancers wear a wide variety of masks and costumes, including clowns, animals, and popular characters. The mask participants are continuously attacked by a man in a bull costume made of a wood frame covered with leather. The bull is violently swung at the participants who attempt to dodge the attacks and are occasionally injured. The heavy masks help protect the faces of the dancers.

This specific mask dates to the 1960s and represents the character Grumpy from the 1937 Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

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

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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: Ajitz
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Chichicastenango
ETHNICITY: Mayan (K’ich’e)
DESCRIPTION: Ajitz (Priest) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Baile de la Conquista
AGE: 2010
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Baile de la Conquista (Dance of the Conquest) retells the conquest of the Mayan Empire by the Spanish conquistadors.  The leader of the conquistadors in the area now known Guatemala was Pedro de Alvarado y Contreras (1485-1541), who participated in the subjugation of Cuba, Mexico, and most of central America, and eventually the governor of Guatemala. His viciousness made him especially hated by the indigenous population.

The dance began as early as the 16th century, and begins with the arrival of Spanish ambassadors to the K’ich’e king, along with princes and princesses (Malinches). The king seeks support for resistance from the governor of Xelajú, named Tecún Umán, who appears with his lieutenant, Huitzitzil Zunun (represented here), and priest, Ajitz (represented by this mask). This leads to a battle, in which Alvarado duels with Tecún Umán, who is killed, resulting in the conversion of the conquered K’ich’e people to Catholicism.

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: Torito Mask (Child’s)
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Nahualá
ETHNICITY: Mayan
DESCRIPTION: Child’s Torito (Little Bull) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker
CEREMONY: Baile del Torito
AGE: mid-twentieth century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; dyed cotton cloth

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) to interact with a bull like this one. 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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TITLE: Maximón Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Solalá
ETHNICITY: Mayan
DESCRIPTION: Maximón (St. Simon) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Protection; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; glass marbles; glue

Maximón, a common Mayan pronunciation of St. Simón, is a complex and somewhat obscure figure. He seems to be the descendant of the pre-conquest Mayan god Mam, a sacred trickster whom the Catholic invaders associated with the Devil (as they did with nearly all local gods). He was worshiped in shrines as a protector of the village, but with the advent of Catholicism, the missionaries sought to convert the practice to saint worship, in this case worship of Simon the Zealot, reputedly a cousin of Jesus of Nazareth. Nonetheless, the image of Mam remains, as the Mayan descendants of Guatemala propitiate Maximón with offerings of liquor and cigarettes, along with the more traditional Catholic offerings of candles and flowers.  The shrine typically moves from house to house annually in any given village, although some villages have more than one shrine.

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

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TITLE: Diablo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Sacatepéquez
ETHNICITY: Mayan
DESCRIPTION: Diablo (Devil) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Antigua Sacatepéquez
CEREMONY: Baile de la Legion los 24 Diablos
AGE: ca. 1930s-1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint; nails; glue

Devil characters appear in several dance-dramas in Guatemala, mainly for entertainment or religious instruction.  In the Sacatepéquez Department, the Baile de la Legion de los 24 Diablos (Dance of the Legion of 24 Devils) serves this function, being an approximately three hour drama enacted in late November or early December. The story involves 19 devils, including Lucifer (who is distinguished by the crown he wears), Death, a monkey, angels, a maiden, an old man, and a soul. The devils, each representing a different theme or sin, seek out a soul to condemn, but one or more angels arrive to succor the sinner. In the end, the soul regresses and goes to Hell. The drama is accompanied by dance, songs and music on traditional Mayan instruments, principally the marimba and chirima flute.

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

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TITLE: Huitzizil Tzunum
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Chichicastenango
ETHNICITY: Mayan (K’ich’e)
DESCRIPTION: Huitzizil Tzunum Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Baile de la Conquista
AGE: 2010
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; glass marbles

The Baile de la Conquista (Dance of the Conquest) retells the conquest of the Mayan Empire by the Spanish conquistadors.  The leader of the conquistadors in the area now known Guatemala was Pedro de Alvarado y Contreras (1485-1541), who participated in the subjugation of Cuba, Mexico, and most of central America, and eventually the governor of Guatemala. His viciousness made him especially hated by the indigenous population.

The dance began as early as the 16th century, and begins with the arrival of Spanish ambassadors to the K’ich’e king, along with princes and princesses (Malinches). The king seeks support for resistance from the governor of Xelajú, named Tecún Umán, who appears with his lieutenant, Huitzitzil Zunun (represented here), and priest, Ajitz. This leads to a battle, in which Alvarado duels with Tecún Umán, who is killed, resulting in the conversion of the conquered K’ich’e people to Catholicism.

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

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