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

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).


TITLE: Tigre Crest
TYPE: crest mask
SUBREGION: Suchiapa, Chiapas
DESCRIPTION: Tigre (Tiger) Crest Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Danza del Calalá
AGE: 1970s-80s
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.


TITLE: Rom Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Vanuatu
SUBREGION: Ambrym Island
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Ni-Vanuatu)
MAKER: Unknown
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.


TITLE: Maligno / Demonio
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Bolivia
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).


TITLE: Bwa Owl Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Burkina Faso
DESCRIPTION: Owl Spirit Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Initiation, Funeral, Agriculture
AGE: 1990s

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.


TITLE: Vaquero Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Guatemala
ETHNICITY: Mayan (K’ich’e)
DESCRIPTION: Vaquero (Cowboy) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Baile del Torito
AGE: 1940s
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; glass eyes

The Baile del Torito  (Dance of the Little Bull), also called the Danza del Torito, is an annual ceremony in several cities of central and southern Guatemala, usually during a holiday in honor of the town’s patron saint. The dance is accompanied by music from a marimba band.

The dance dates back to the 17th century. It tells the story of a cattle ranch in which the caporal or mayordomo (foreman) prohibits the vaqueros (cowboys) like this one to interact with a bull. The cowboys get the foreman drunk and perform bullfights. Eventually, a bull kills the foreman and the dance ends.

The dance frequently begins before sunrise and lasts for up to 12 hours. It may be performed for many days, sometimes over a week. Depending on the size of the town, there may be only one or several bulls and caporales, and up to 50 vaqueros. In some towns, such as Chichicastenango, there is both a white caporal and a black one. The costume of the vaquero is brightly colored and elaborate, with a hat sporting thick clusters of dyed ostrich feathers. In some towns, the vaquero carries a cape and maraca (rattle). The players of each character are chosen through Mayan rituals and are blessed by an Ai-lj (Mayan priest) before the dance.

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


TITLE: Pee Ta Khon
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Thailand
DESCRIPTION: Pee Ta Khon (Ghost) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Pee Ta Khon (Ghost Festival)
AGE: 2012
MAIN MATERIAL: palm spathe
OTHER MATERIALS: oil paint; wood; sawdust paste; rattan rice strainer; dyed polyester fabric

The Pee Ta Khon, also spelled Phi Ta Khon, is an annual ceremony held solely in Dan Sai, Thailand, over a three-day period between March and July. The precise date of the festival is determined by the town’s spiritual mediums. It is part of a larger Buddhist celebration known as Bun Luang or Bun Phawet, intended to earn spiritual merit for its participants.

On wan ruam (assembly day), the ghosts congregate and invite protection from the spirit of the Mun River on which Dan Sai sits. The ghosts then hold a series of games and a procession, symbolizing the festivities that followed the return of the Buddha after a long absence during which he was presumed dead.

In addition to the elaborate masks, which mingle the ferocious with the comedic, the ghosts where patchwork costumes, belts with bells, and carry a palad khik (giant wooden phallus), which they wave at females in the audience in token of fertility.