TITLE: St. George Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
DESCRIPTION: San Jorge (St. George) mask
CATALOG ID: LAGT043
MAKER: Unknown maker in Rabinal
CEREMONY: Baile de San Jorge
AGE: early 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: hardwood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint
This mask was used in the Baile de San Jorge, also known as the Baile de la Serpiente or Baile de la Sierpe, retelling the mythical battle of St. George against a dragon. The story orginates in 9th century Europe (with much older antecedents) and tells of a dragon that extorted tribute from villagers in Cappadocia (translocated in later stories to Libya). When the villagers ran out of livestock and trinkets for the dragon, they started giving the dragon a human tribute once a year by lot. When a princess was chosen as the next offering. St. George rescued the princess and killed the dragon.
The dance has special meaning for the cultural conquest of the Mayan Empire by the Spanish Empire, because the “dragon” vanquished by St. George would have represented the Mayan feathered serpent god, Quetzalcoatl. By depicting a Catholic saint killing a dragon, the Spanish missionaries tried to convert a Mayan ritual into a vehicle for Catholic proselytization. This mask has been repainted several times due to wear to the paint.
For more on Guatemalan masks, see Jim Pieper, Guatemala’s Masks and Drama (University of New Mexico Press, 2006)