TITLE: Convite Mask
TYPE: mask
COUNTRY: Guatemala
ETHNICITY: Mayan (Q’eqchi’)
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Baile de los Convites
AGE: late 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: molded polyvinyl chloride
OTHER MATERIALS: cotton cloth; foam rubber; leather straps; human hair; glue; 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.  In Cobán by the late 1960s, PVC plastic had become a common building material and was easier to heat and shape over a simple mold than hand-carving a wooden mask. Because of the ease of making them and their relative novelty, such crude masks were briefly popular for convite dances during this period.

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