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: Tastoan
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Zacatecas
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Tastoan Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fiesta de Santiago el Apostól
AGE: 1920s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil; horse hair; hardware

In parts of Jalisco and Zacatecas, the holiday in honor of Santiago el Apostól (St. James the Apostle) is held every 25th of July. Celebrants carry spears and dress in long pants, leather chaps, and boots, with demonic masks made of wood (Zacatecas) or molded leather (Jalisco) covered with a montera (headdress) of goat hair, horse hair, or plant fiber. The festival commemorates a battle between the indigenous warriors of the area and conquistadors. The appearance of the tastoanes, who represent indigenous warriors, conveys their ferocity through sharp teeth, large noses, and snakes, lizards, scorpions and spiders for decorations.

During the celebration, tastoanes and either three kings wearing ceramic masks or three Aztec priestesses (one representing the Tonaltec queen Tzapotzintli, also known as Tzuapili oor Cihualpilli) carry an image of St. James along a parade route and dance to music carrying swords or whips, after which they make defiant speeches and engage in a mock battle (jugada) with a participant carrying a whip who represents St. James.  At the end of the battle, all the tastoanes die and St. James is victorious. In the past, all tastoanes were male, but recently women have begun to participate as well.  In some towns, an organization such as a Cofradía de Santo Santiago (Fraternity of St. James) organizes the event.

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TITLE: Indian Warrior Mask
TYPE: face mask; accessory
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Puebla
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Indian Warrior (Indio) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Huejotzingo
CEREMONY: Carnival (Battle of Puebla)
AGE: ca. 1940s (repainted in 2015)
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: wire; goat leather and fur; string; paint

The Carnival in Huejotzingo, Puebla is both impressive and unique. In its modern incarnation, it has continued a tradition of mock battles since 1869 or earlier. The Carnival begins with a parade, dancing, music, and fireworks and continues with reenactments of putative historical events. The first is the kidnapping of the daughter of Huejotzingo’s corregidor (mayor) by the bandit Augustín Lorenzo, followed by their wedding. The second is a reenactment of the first marriage of Nahuas by Catholic rituals.

The third and most elaborate reenacts the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 between French and Mexican armed forces. Participants of the four principal neighborhoods of the city are divided into five battalions, each headed by a general.  Over four days, these battalions participate in mock battles, firing wooden muskets with real gunpowder at each other, and visit the cemeteries to pay homage to former members. Some participants are women dressed and masked as men. The five battalions represent various factions in both sides of the conflict.

The Zapadores represent the Mexican nobility who are the imperial guard of Maximilian I or Agustín de Iturbide. They wear clothes mixing Mexican and European elements, with a tall cylindrical hat (penacho) and a large, wide beard. On their side are the Zacapoaxtlas and Indios Serranos. The Zacapoaxtlas represent Mexican cowboys (charros) who fought with General Zaragoza. Their masks have two blond beards, a Mariachi sombrero, and an elaborate costume with a black cape and tones of the Mexican flag (red, white and green). The Indios Serranos represent the indigenous warriors and wear a mask with a long, light-colored beard and a wide palm-leaf hat with a Virgin Mary and elaborate decorations. Their costume includes a water gourd, a leather satchel, and a plant fiber backpack that holds their food (mostly chile peppers).

The Franceses (sometimes called Zuoavos, from the French word Zouaves) wear a blue, fez-like cap (gorro) and a mask with two blond beards like the Zacapoaxtla, with the small difference that the Frances mask is painted slightly lighter in color. They wear a blue cape with both the French and Mexican flags on it and sometimes carry a baguette. Their allies, the Turcos (Turks) represent mercenaries (probably in reality Egyptian) whom the Pueblans associated with Islam and, therefore, hostility to Catholic Mexico. The Turcos wear a turban and a mask with a black, pointed beard.  Their costume includes silk clothes, peacock feathers, and scimitars. All participants on both sides carry mock muskets.

This mask was danced for approximately 80 years by the family of Alejandro Ramírez of Huejotzingo. It was repainted at the family’s request by local caretero José Ciro Pérez in 2015.

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).

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TITLE: Macho Mask (child’s)
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Nicaragua
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Macho (Mule) Mask for Child
MAKER: Unknown maker in Diriamba
CEREMONY: El Güegüense Dance Drama
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint

El Güegüense is a culturally important Nicaraguan play originating in seventeenth century Diriamba and written by an anonymous author. It was originally called Baile del Güegüence, ó Macho-Raton, translated literally as “The Dance of the Old Man, or Male Mouse.” The play, which is considered the first classic of Nicaraguan literature, ridicules greed, moral corruption, and the troubled relations between Spanish colonists, mestizos, and indigenous people. It is performed annually in Diriamba during the Feast of St. Sebastian, from January 17th to 27th.

As performed today, most characters wear masks and dance to the music of the native flute (pito), violin, guitar, and drum during the performance.  Among the characters are several machos, or mules, sometimes numbering twelve or more.  This mask represents one of the smaller mules and would have been played by a child.

For more on the Güegüense, see The Güegüence; A Comedy Ballet in the Nahua-Spanish Dialect of Nicaragua (Daniel G. Briton ed., 1883).

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TITLE: Güegüense Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Nicaragua
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Güegüense (Viejo) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Masaya
CEREMONY: El Güegüense Dance Drama
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

El Güegüense is a culturally important Nicaraguan play originating in seventeenth century Diriamba and written by an anonymous author. It was originally called Baile del Güegüence, ó Macho-Raton, translated literally as “The Dance of the Old Man, or Male Mouse.” The play, which is considered the first classic of Nicaraguan literature, ridicules greed, moral corruption, and the troubled relations between Spanish colonists, mestizos, and indigenous people. It is performed annually in Diriamba during the Feast of St. Sebastian, from January 17th to 27th.

As performed today, most characters wear masks and dance to the music of the native flute (pito), violin, guitar, and drum during the performance.  Among the characters are several machos, or mules, sometimes numbering twelve or more.  This mask represents the Güegüense (old man, or viejo) who is the protagonist of the story.

For more on the Güegüense, see The Güegüence; A Comedy Ballet in the Nahua-Spanish Dialect of Nicaragua (Daniel G. Briton ed., 1883).

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Click above to watch a short documentary about the tastoanes of Tonalá, Mexico.

TITLE: Tastoan
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Jalisco
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Tastoan Mask
MAKER: Ubaldo Macías Bernabe, Tonalá (1972- )
CEREMONY: Fiesta de Santiago el Apostól
AGE: 2016
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: horse teeth; animal bone; acrylic paint; lacquer; glue paste; wire; thread; elastic bands; horse hair

In parts of Jalisco and Zacatecas, the holiday in honor of Santiago el Apostól (St. James the Apostle) is held every 25th of July. Celebrants carry spears and dress in long pants, leather chaps, and boots, with demonic masks made of wood (Zacatecas) or molded leather (Jalisco) covered with a montera (headdress) of goat hair, horse hair, or plant fiber. The festival commemorates a battle between the indigenous warriors of the area and conquistadors. The appearance of the tastoanes, who represent indigenous warriors, conveys their ferocity through sharp teeth, large noses, and snakes, lizards, scorpions and spiders for decorations. This mask has images of the mythical creatures nahual and nahuala, half jaguar and half human, who symbolize the ferocity of the Tonaltecs. In some cases, the masks are dotted to convey the transmission of diseases such as smallpox and syphilis from the Spaniards to the indigenous peoples.

During the celebration, tastoanes and either three kings wearing ceramic masks or three Aztec priestesses (one representing the Tonaltec queen Tzapotzintli, also known as Tzuapili oor Cihualpilli) carry an image of St. James along a parade route and dance to music carrying swords or whips, after which they make defiant speeches and engage in a mock battle (jugada) with a participant carrying a whip who represents St. James.  At the end of the battle, all the tastoanes die and St. James is victorious. In the past, all tastoanes were male, but recently women have begun to participate as well.  In some towns, an organization such as a Cofradía de Santo Santiago (Fraternity of St. James) organizes the event.

This specific mask was made by the award-winning craftsman Ubaldo Macías of Tonalá and worn in the 2016 Fiesta de Sto. Santiago.

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TITLE: Diablo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Puebla
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Diablo (Devil) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; cotton strips

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 Puebla, as in many other parts of Mexico, Carnival is celebrated with masked dances and parades. This character represents the Devil, a fallen angel and symbol of evil in Jewish and Catholic theology. The choice of short horns and an exaggeratedly upward curled nose is a curious innovation, somewhat reminiscent of the Azteca masks of neighboring Veracruz.

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Click above to watch a short documentary about the tastoanes of Tonalá, Mexico.

TITLE: Tastoan
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Jalisco
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Tastoan Mask
MAKER: Ubaldo Macías Bernabe, Tonalá (1972- )
CEREMONY: Fiesta de Santiago el Apostól
AGE: 2017
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: horse teeth; animal bone; acrylic paint; lacquer; glue paste; wire; thread; elastic bands; horse hair

In parts of Jalisco and Zacatecas, the holiday in honor of Santiago el Apostól (St. James the Apostle) is held every 25th of July. Celebrants carry spears and dress in long pants, leather chaps, and boots, with demonic masks made of wood (Zacatecas) or molded leather (Jalisco) covered with a montera (headdress) of goat hair, horse hair, or plant fiber. The festival commemorates a battle between the indigenous warriors of the area and conquistadors. The appearance of the tastoanes, who represent indigenous warriors, conveys their ferocity through sharp teeth, large noses, and snakes, lizards, scorpions and spiders for decorations. This mask has images of the mythical creatures nahual and nahuala, half jaguar and half human, who symbolize the ferocity of the Tonaltecs. In some cases, the masks are dotted to convey the transmission of diseases such as smallpox and syphilis from the Spaniards to the indigenous peoples.

During the celebration, tastoanes and either three kings wearing ceramic masks or three Aztec priestesses (one representing the Tonaltec queen Tzapotzintli, also known as Tzuapili oor Cihualpilli) carry an image of St. James along a parade route and dance to music carrying swords or whips, after which they make defiant speeches and engage in a mock battle (jugada) with a participant carrying a whip who represents St. James.  At the end of the battle, all the tastoanes die and St. James is victorious. In the past, all tastoanes were male, but recently women have begun to participate as well.  In some towns, an organization such as a Cofradía de Santo Santiago (Fraternity of St. James) organizes the event.

This specific mask was made by the award-winning craftsman Ubaldo Macías of Tonalá.

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TITLE: Tastoan (Child)
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Jalisco
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Child’s Tastoan Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in San Juan de Ocotlán under name of “El Viejo”
CEREMONY: Fiesta de Santiago el Apostól
AGE: 2003
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; string; horse hair

In parts of Jalisco and Zacatecas, the holiday in honor of Santiago el Apostól (St. James the Apostle) is held every 25th of July. Celebrants carry spears and dress in long pants, leather chaps, and boots, with demonic masks made of wood (Zacatecas) or molded leather (Jalisco) covered with a montera (headdress) of goat hair, horse hair, or plant fiber. The festival commemorates a battle between the indigenous warriors of the area and conquistadors. The appearance of the tastoanes, who represent indigenous warriors, conveys their ferocity through sharp teeth, large noses, and snakes, lizards, scorpions and spiders for decorations. This mask has images of the mythical creatures nahual and nahuala, half jaguar and half human, who symbolize the ferocity of the Tonaltecs. In some cases, the masks are dotted to convey the transmission of diseases such as smallpox and syphilis from the Spaniards to the indigenous peoples.

During the celebration, tastoanes and either three kings wearing ceramic masks or three Aztec priestesses (one representing the Tonaltec queen Tzapotzintli, also known as Tzuapili oor Cihualpilli) carry an image of St. James along a parade route and dance to music carrying swords or whips, after which they make defiant speeches and engage in a mock battle (jugada) with a participant carrying a whip who represents St. James.  At the end of the battle, all the tastoanes die and St. James is victorious. In the past, all tastoanes were male, but recently women have begun to participate as well.  In some towns, an organization such as a Cofradía de Santo Santiago (Fraternity of St. James) organizes the event.

This specific mask was made for a young child in the town of San Juan de Ocotlán.

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Click above to watch a short documentary about the tastoanes of Tonalá, Mexico.

TITLE: Tastoan Perro
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Jalisco
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Perro Mask for the Tastoanes Dance
MAKER: Ubaldo Macías Bernabe, Tonalá (1972- )
CEREMONY: Fiesta de Santiago el Apostól
AGE: 2017
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: acrylic paint; lacquer; glue paste; wire; thread; elastic bands; goat hair; ixtle fiber

In parts of Jalisco and Zacatecas, the holiday in honor of Santiago el Apostól (St. James the Apostle) is held every 25th of July. Celebrants carry spears and dress in long pants, leather chaps, and boots, with demonic masks made of wood (Zacatecas) or molded leather (Jalisco) covered with a montera (headdress) of goat hair, horse hair, or plant fiber. The festival commemorates a battle between the indigenous warriors of the area and conquistadors. The appearance of the tastoanes, who represent indigenous warriors, conveys their ferocity through sharp teeth, large noses, and snakes, lizards, scorpions and spiders for decorations.

During the celebration, tastoanes and either three kings wearing ceramic masks or three Aztec priestesses (one representing the Tonaltec queen Tzapotzintli, also known as Tzuapili oor Cihualpilli) carry an image of St. James along a parade route and dance to music carrying swords or whips, after which they make defiant speeches and engage in a mock battle (jugada) with a participant carrying a whip who represents St. James. At the beginning of the battle, the tastoanes carry in St. James as a prisoner and torture him, but he is rescued by his dog (perro), which this mask represents. The dog drives away the tastoanes with a stick and assists St. James, afterward supplying him with new sticks as he breaks them on the bodies of tastoanes. In most performances, the dog dies in the course of the battle. Nonetheless, at the end, all the tastoanes die and St. James is victorious. In some towns, an organization such as a Cofradía de Santo Santiago (Fraternity of St. James) organizes the event.

This specific mask was made by the award-winning craftsman Ubaldo Macías of Tonalá.

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