TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
ETHNICITY: Mayan (K’ich’e)
DESCRIPTION: Ajitz (Priest) Mask
CEREMONY: Baile de la Conquista
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; glass eyes; metal hardware
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, and priest, Ajitz (who is represented in 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.
This Ajitz has had numerous repairs during fifty or sixty years of use. The metal hardware was painted over to prevent rusting caused by contact with sweat from the dancer’s face.
For more on Guatemalan masks, see Jim Pieper, Guatemala’s Masks and Drama (University of New Mexico Press, 2006).