TITLE: Clown Mask (Child’s)
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Child’s Mask of a Payasita (Female Clown) or Novia (Girlfriend)
MAKER: Rafael Mesa Oliva, Naolinco (1978- )
CEREMONY: Carnival; Fiesta de San Mateo (Danza de los Pilatos)
AGE: 2013
MAIN MATERIAL: equimite wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; string

The novia or girlfriend and payasita (little female clown) are popular Carnival characters in Mexico, almost always danced by a man wearing a female clown costume or some other feminine attire. In Naolinco, Veracruz, she may also be danced in the Danza de los Pilatos, also called La Danza de los Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians), which is an important celebration in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The dance reenacts the reconquest Spain from the Saracens by the European Christians. The dance arose from the teachings of missionaries as part of an effort to instill respect for and fear of the Spaniards in the indigenous peoples, and to convince them that the victory of Christianity over other faiths—by violence whenever necessary—was inevitable.

The dance is still performed widely in Mexico, including in Mexico State, Michoacán, Puebla, and Veracruz. Characters vary depending on locality, although they always include “Christians” or “Spaniards” and Moors. In Naolinco, Veracruz, the dance is performed on the holiday of the town patron saint, St. Matthew (Fiesta de San Mateo), celebrated on Sept. 20-21 every year.  There, Moors take many forms, including devils, pirates, clowns, or skeletons. Some of the characters are not obviously evil, such as Apaches (representing indigenous Americans) or this payasita, but they are portrayed as Moors nonetheless. This specific mask is slightly smaller than the adult size and was danced by older children.

For more on masks from Veracruz, see Bryan J. Stevens, Mexican Masks and Puppets: Master Carvers of the Sierra de Puebla (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Pub’g, 2012).

A brief video with highlights of the Danza de los Moros y Cristianos from Naolinco’s 2018 Fiesta de San Mateo.