TITLE: Tigre Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Guerrero
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Tigre
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Batalla de los Tigres (Tecuanis)
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: canvas cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: leather ears; mirrors; wood nose; animal teeth; adhesive; paint

In Guerrero, Mexico, the Batalla de los Tigres (Tiger Battles) are today part of the Catholic feast day of the Holy Cross, but its origins probably reach back into the pre-conquest era worship of a jaguar god (notwithstanding the name and appearance of the mask, there are no tigers in any part of the Americas). Indeed, in many parts of Guerrero, the dancers are referred to as tecuani, the Nahuatl word for jaguar (literally, “man-eater”).  The modern dance is used to summon rain for the spring planting season.  The jaguars engage in a fierce battle, striking each other with knotted ropes.

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TITLE: Catrín Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Tlaxcala
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Catrín (Dandy) Mask
MAKER: Pedro Amador Reyes Juárez (1939-1999, Tlatempán, Tlaxcala)
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; glass eyes; cattle hair eyelashes; gold foil; metal hardware; cotton string; leather straps

Carnival in Tlaxcala, Mexico has traditions quite different from those in other parts of the country.  In the city of Tlaxcala, men dress in formal suits, gloves, and top hats, with extremely realistic and handsome Spanish-type masks, and in some towns carry umbrellas through the streets as parasols.  The catrín, or dandy, is a figure of ridicule dating back to colonization, when elaborately dressed Spaniards flaunted their wealth to the oppressed indigenous peoples. The catrín is the indigenous revenge, possible because the masks and costumes made it difficult to identify the culprits.  Frequently the masks have gold teeth and beauty marks, like this one, and include an ingenious spring mechanism attached to a string, which allows the masquerader to blink the dandy’s eyes by pulling on the string.  The masks of Tlaxcala are some of the only known mechnical masks in Latin America. Glass eyes were imported into Tlaxcala for mask-making around 1960.

In the past, the catrínes paired up with dancers known as nanas, who were male dancers dressed as elegant Spanish ladies and wearing a delicately-carved female mask.

Masks of this type are frequently delicately carved and hand-painted by master craftsmen in multiple layers.



A brief documentary about Carnival in the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico.

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TITLE: Azteca Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Azteca
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Danza de la Conquista; Carnival
AGE: ca. 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; 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: 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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