TITLE: Kyōgen Ko-Tengu
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Ko-Tengu (Celestial Dog) Kyōgen Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kyōgen Theatre
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: laquer; paint; bronze sheet

The tengu is a legendary being very important to Japanese mythology, found in both folk tales and Shinto and Buddhist religious doctrines. Despite the reference to dog in the creature’s name (“celestial dog”) and origin, it is also associated with a predatory bird. The role of the tengu is ambiguous, with some sources treating it as a demon and others as a protective demi-god. Its form, too, varies between that of a large bird of prey and a brightly-colored human, nearly always with an exceptionally long nose.

The tengu is a popular masked character in Kyōgen theatre as well. Kyōgen is a traditional form of Japanese comic theatre, usually performed in village celebrations or as interludes between traditional Noh dramas. Kyōgen is performed by both masked and unmasked characters, whose role is defined in each traditional play. The actors are accompanied by flute, drum and gong music, but Kyōgen emphasizes dialogue and action over song or dance. In these plays, the tengu typically plays the role of trouble-maker (sometimes dupe) or mystical protector.


To watch a short documentary about Japanese Nogaku (Noh drama and Kyogen plays), click above.

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TITLE: Lunar New Year Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Hong Kong
ETHNICITY: Han
DESCRIPTION: Elderly Woman “Big Head” Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Lunar New Year
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint; dyed polyester fabric

The Chinese celebrate the lunar new year with lion dances, parades, and fireworks throughout the country.  Normally, the celebration begins on new year’s eve and lasts 15 days, and it provides an opportunity for entertainment, family reunion, honoring ancestors, and planning for the coming year. In the parade, armies of “big-headed Buddhas” clad in traditional silk costumes (or their modern polyester equivalents) follow the lion dancers.  They cavort for the entertainment of the audience and to bring good fortune in the coming year. Among these masqueraders are old man and old woman characters, such as the one represented by this mask. In modern Hong Kong, this is the largest festival of the year, and includes floats and decorations throughout the city.

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TITLE: Songye Face Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Songye
DESCRIPTION: Bambudye Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Healing; Purification; Secret Society; Social Control; War Preparation
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin

The Songye people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) are closely related to the Luba people of the same region.  Both use a variety of face masks for social control and village purification.  The Songye were formerly a warlike people and used their masks to frighten enemies, as well as to frighten away evil spirits from the village or from a sick individual plagued by them.  The masks are danced by secret societies to protect the village and are usually worn with a full body costume of raffia.  Songye masks are typically characterized by striations carved into the face, representing the facial scarification used by Songye warriors.

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TITLE: Dominican Carnival Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Caribbean
COUNTRY: Dominican Republic
SUBREGION: La Vega
ETHNICITY: Afro-Latino
DESCRIPTION: Diablo Cojuelo
MAKER: Unknown maker in La Vega
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: fiberglass
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; synthetic hair; metal accessories; glue; glitter; wire mesh; foam rubber padding; elastic straps

During the carnival of the Dominican Republic, which actually falls on the Dominican Independence Day rather than the Catholic Mardi Gras, paraders don elaborate masks and costumes to represent devils, monsters, clowns, and other characters.  Different towns have different traditional masks.  In La Vega, a very large parade involving hundreds of masked marchers takes place every year, prominently featuring characters known as the diablo cojuelo, or “tormenting devil.”  These devils carry inflated bladders on a rope (formerly goat bladders, but today mostly rubber) that they use to strike audience members, preferably young women, on the buttocks.  The ritual thereby serves the dual function of providing a release for young male testosterone and reminding the audience of the torments awaiting in Hell.

Traditionally, such masks were made of paper maché, but in modern times they have been increasingly made of fiberglass molded around a sculpted model.  This allows crews of paraders to wear similar masks as a group without the need sculpt each mask individually.  Even so, tremendous work goes into the molding, preparation, painting, and adornment of each mask. Frequently the costumes require months of hand-stitching as well.

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TITLE: Scheller Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Austria
ETHNICITY: Tyrolean
DESCRIPTION: Scheller Fasching Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fasching (Carnival)
AGE: 1870s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

Fasching is the Tyrolean carnival.  In many towns in Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy, local folk don elaborate masks and costumes to parade through the town.  Different towns have variations on the parade, such as the Schemenlaufen of Imst, the Schellerlaufen of Nassereith, and the Muller and Matschgerer of Innsbruck, Austria.

The characters include young and old personalities alike. This mask represents the Scheller, a mature man who wears heavy cowbells on his hips and rings them as he walks.  The costumes feature ribbons, mirrors, and beads to symbolize vanity, materialism, and wickedness.

For more on traditional Tyrolean folk masks, see Claus Hansmann, Masken Schemen Larven: Volksmasken der Aplenländer (Munich: Verlag F. Bruckmann, 1959).

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TITLE: Cherokee Bison Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: North Carolina
ETHNICITY: Cherokee
DESCRIPTION: Booger mask in the form of a bison
MAKER: Allen Long (1917-1983), Cherokee, North Carolina
CEREMONY: Booger Dance
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment

In the Eastern Cherokee Nation, the booger (tsu’nigadu’li) dance forms an important part of the winter celebration to discourage evil spirits from disrupting the coming growing season. The boogers themselves represent the evil spirits, and they traditionally portrayed grotesque faces seeking to fight, chase women, and create general havoc. Following colonization, the booger dancers focused their misdeeds especially on satirizing the insolence, foolishness, and lust of European colonists toward the Cherokee women.

Booger masks could be made of wood, gourds, or carved wasp nests.  This specific mask was made by a famed carver, Allen Long.

For more on Cherokee masked dance, see Frank G. Speck & Leonard Broom, Cherokee Dance and Drama (University of Oklahoma Press 1951).

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TITLE: Tigre Crest
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Suchiapa, Chiapas
ETHNICITY: Mayan
DESCRIPTION: Tigre (Tiger) Crest Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Danza del Calalá
AGE: 1970s-80s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; cotton cloth; thread; plastic eyes; metal staples

In Suchiapa, Chiapas, the Danza del Calalá (Dance of the “Celestial Deer” in the Chacoan language) is performed on Corpus Christi using wooden or gourd helmet masks with a cloth cowl. The dancer looks through a hole in the cloth and simulates combat with other dancers in a less brutal version of the Batalla de los Tigres in Guerrero. The dance originated before the Spanish conquest and involves several other masked characters , including the calalá (deer), the biblical Goliath, gigantillo (little giant, representing Goliath’s nemesis David), and Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent god of the Maya). The dance is performed to indigenous music of drums and reed whistles, and it ends when the tigres revolt.

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TITLE: Rom Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Vanuatu
SUBREGION: Ambrym Island
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Ni-Vanuatu)
DESCRIPTION: Rom Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Rom Kon
PURPOSE: secret society; social control; spirit invocation; status
AGE: ca. 2000
MAIN MATERIAL: palm spathe
OTHER MATERIALS: bamboo, coconut fiber, hemp, leaves, feathers, pigment

The Rom Kon ceremony is performed by male secret society members to the beat of drums and seed shakers.  The remainder of the costume is composed of dried banana leaves, and each Rom dancer holds a wooden carving that symbolically represents a weapon.  The Rom dancers themselves represent evil spirits who form a wide circle filled by Namba dancers.  The participants sing songs and chant stories as they dance.  Gradually the pace builds until the ceremony reaches a loud and feverish pitch, then ends.

The right to make or wear a sacred mask carries high costs in Ambrym society.  Rom masks invoke the spirit of ancestors (generally the grandfather) and are important agents of social control.  The masks and costumes must be destroyed or disposed of after a dance to ensure the spirit does not haunt the owner.  The dances only occur between July and September, or at special celebrations, such as for the for the appointment of a chief.

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TITLE: Maligno / Demonio
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Bolivia
SUBREGION: Oruro
ETHNICITY: Quechua and Aymara
DESCRIPTION: Demon (Maligno / Demonio) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Carnival (La Diablada)
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: linen covered with plaster
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; animal teeth; paint; plant fibers; glass eyes

The Diablada is an important part of Carnival in several towns in the Altiplano region of Bolivia, Peru, and northern Chile.  The Diablada of Oruro, Bolivia, is famous for the large numbers of participants and the elaborateness of their masks and costumes.

The dance dates back to pre-colonial times and was adapted under the influence of the Spanish missionaries to conform to the Catholic doctrine of the struggle between good and evil.  The dance begins with the Archangel Michael commanding personified seven virtues against Lucifer and his personified seven deadly sins and an army of male and female devils.  This mask represents one of the seven deadly sins.  Other non-European characters, such as the Andean Condor and the jukumari bear, also play a role.

The dance typically occurs in the course of the parade, with marching bands playing musical scores dating back to the 17th century.  In practice, the dance includes both male and female devils dancing in a group led by (rather than opposed by) the Archangel Michael.  The mask itself dates to the 1960s and was made by the then-usual technique of putting linen cloth over a fired clay mold, then applying plaster and letting it set.  This mask was used in the Diablada as one of Michael’s troops.

For more on Bolivian masquerade, see Peter McFarren ed., Masks of the Bolivian Andes (La Paz: Editorial Quipus/Banco Mercantil SA, 1993).

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TITLE: Bwa Owl Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Burkina Faso
ETHNICITY: Bwa
DESCRIPTION: Owl Spirit Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Initiation, Funeral, Agriculture
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin

Among the southern Bwa people, masks typically represent bush spirits that the wearer invokes for the benefit of his community, such as the hawk, crocodile or buffalo.  Bwa masks, in common with the neighboring Gurunsi and Nuna people, are characterized by highly geometric designs and dichromatic patterns of alternating dark wood and white kaolin clay.  Such masks are commissioned and owned by clans for bringing blessings to the village during funerals and the planting and harvesting of crops.  It may also be used during adult initiation rituals.  The mask is worn by a skilled dancer who secures it over his face by biting down on a rope on the mask’s back.  His body is concealed by a bushy costume of raffia fiber, traditionally dyed red or black, but now also seen in other dyes.  Accompanied by musicians playing flutes and drums and women singing songs, the masquerader dances rapidly, imitating the behavior of a spirit.  The use of wood masks is relatively recent among the Bwa, who traditionally used plant fibers and leaves instead.

This specific mask represents the owl, a bird considered to have great mystical power by the Bwa people.  The owl eyes appear on other animal spirit masks as well due to the owl’s exceptional importance to Bwa mythology.

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