TITLE: Harb Bedouin Mask
TYPE: face veil
GENERAL REGION: Middle East
COUNTRY: Saudi Arabia
SUBREGION: Arabian Peninsula (Bilad al-Sham)
ETHNICITY: Arab (Harb)
DESCRIPTION: Harb Bedouin Mask
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: celebration; social control
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: cotton cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: stitching; silver ornaments

In the Hijaz (Islamic holy land), Arabic women of the Harb tribe wear the veil on certain occasions.  The Harb people are a Bedouin tribe living between western Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  The function of the veil is ostensibly to preserve female modesty, which allows male tribe members to control female bodies.  Such masks are not for everyday use; they would be too hot and heavy. They are worn during special events, such as weddings and feasts, and when strangers visit the camp.

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TITLE: Bedouin Niqab
TYPE: face veil
GENERAL REGION: Middle East
COUNTRY: Egypt
SUBREGION: Siwa Oasis
ETHNICITY: Berber
DESCRIPTION: Berber Bedouin Woman’s Niqab (Veil Mask)
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: celebration; social control
AGE: 1952
MAIN MATERIAL: wool cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: glass beads; silver coins; silver plates; metal chains; stitching

In the western desert of Egypt, Berber women living in Bedouin societies sometimes wear masks or veils called niqab. The veils serve multiple functions, including protecting the women’s face from sun damage, filtering dust from the air, displaying adornment, and demonstrating wealth or status. The veil may also allow men to exercise social control over women’s bodies, maintaining their status as proprietary to fathers and husbands.  Not all Bedouian societies use the niqab, but those that do generally begin the practice after the woman or girl has been married.

The niqab worn by Bedouin women on special occasions are sometimes elaborately decorated with coins and beads, like this one.  Such masks are not for everyday use; they would be too hot and heavy. They are worn during special events, such as weddings and feasts.  This one comes from the Berber people in the Siwa Oasis, in the western Egyptian desert, and was worn by a Bedouin woman until her death in 1952.

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TITLE: Reina de Jardineros
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Oaxaca
ETHNICITY: Zapotec
DESCRIPTION: Reina (Queen) de Jardineros
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Danza de Jardineros
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: cloth covered in beeswax
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; metal o-rings; cotton string

In many parts of Mexico, indigenous populations reenact the Spanish Reconquista, known as the Danza de los Cristianos y los Moros, usually on holidays in honor of the patron saint of the village. In the Zapotec region of Oaxaca, especially San Bartolo Coyotepec, Zaachila, and Santo Tomás Jalieza, this tradition has a unique style and is known as the Dance of the Gardeners. A group formed of a Christian king and queen, a Moorish king and queen, and various princes, princesses, knights and vassals involving an elaborate plot that ends in a machete fight in which the Christians are victorious and force the Muslims to convert to Catholicism. The ceremony is usually performed at the Fiesta de la Virgén de Rosario on the last Sunday of the year, as well as the 2nd and 8th of January. This specific mask represents the Spanish queen.

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TITLE: Waq’ollo
TYPE: hood mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Peru
SUBREGION: Cusco
ETHNICITY: Quechua
DESCRIPTION: Waq’ollo Mask for Qhapaq Q’olla
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Qhapaq Q’olla Dance (Qoyllur Rit’i; Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen; Corpus Christi)
AGE: 2019
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed and knitted wool-acrylic blend
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

In the Altiplano of Bolivia and Peru, the Quechua and Aymara descendants of the Incans still celebrate Qoyllur Rit’i, the Snow Star Festival in late May or early June to hale the reappearance of the Pleiades constellation and the harvest. Although the Catholic Church has attempted to co-opt the event, it maintains its essentially pre-Spanish conquest character.  Pilgrims from around Peru assemble in the Sinakara Valley in various costumes to dance in celebration. The Qhapaq Q’olla (“mighty Indian”) is one such character, dancing in the waq’ollo mask shown here with a hat, woven sling and a dried vicuña skin. Supposedly they represent a merchant who is half human and half llama, and who brings goods to the Cusco region for sale from the jungle and Paucartambo region, such as pisco liquor. Their roles are primarily that of clown, but they also dance and sing to the Virgin of Paucartambo. They sometimes wear a square flat hat called an aqarapi, and dance in a group.  The group is composed of a Mayor (alcalde), who carries a wooden staff of authority and a black crucifix on his mask, and his wife (la Imilla), a child (q’ollita), two captains, a llama herder (llamero), who wanders into the crowd to pretend to sell his goods, and a group of q’ollas dancing in two rows.  The imilla has a face covered by a black veil.  Qhapaq Q’olla also dance at Corpus Christi parades in Cusco and other religious celebrations.

The q’ollas, aligned according to their age, dance together, led by the captains.Sometimes children called chanako accompany them as well. The musical ensemble that accompanies them consists of a violin, an accordion, a bass drum and several Quena performers.  The q’ollas are always men born in Paucartambo. The costume consists of a flat, rectangular hat (aqarapi) decorated with sequins, old coins or beads; the waq’ollo; a lliclla skin made of vicuña wool, and the qepi that contains a young dead vicuña.  the dance, the collas sing Quechua songs about their commercial activity, their journey to Cusco, and their protective saints.

Although traditionally made of llama wool, the waq’ollo is now commonly made of sheep wool or, as here, acrylic wool. The masks shown here have a modern take on the traditional, white style, with loud green stripes or a U.S. flag.


Click above to watch a short documentary on Corpus Christi in Cusco, Peru.

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Click here to watch a video about Ache Lhamo, courtesy of the Tibetan Department of Culture.

TITLE: Rora Reema Aristocrat
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Tibet
ETHNICITY: Tibetan
DESCRIPTION: Aristocrat Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Rora Reema
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed fabric
OTHER MATERIALS: cardboard; silk tassels; yak fur; wooden beads; cowrie shells

Rora reema is the ritual Buddhist dance drama performed during Tibetan operas (Ache Lhamo). The opera has many masked characters, with the color of the mask’s face helping to indicate the actor’s role.  The black mask, called moqua, represent a hunter.  Yellow and white masks, in contrast, represents Dran Gsong, a saintly old hermit, or Tashi Chopa, a prosperous old man. A blue mask represents ngompa, the fisherman.  A red mask indicates a courtly aristocrat.  The Rora reema players tell stories in a chanting voice and dance acrobatically to drums and tambourines while wearing cloth masks.  At the end of the dance the crowd tosses handfuls of seeds into the air to propitiate the gods and pray for the peace and prosperity.

For more on Tibetan dance dramas, see Ellen Pearlman, Tibetan Sacred Dance: A Journey Into the Religious and Folk Traditions (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2002).

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TITLE: Cajun Mardi Gras
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUB-REGION: Acadiana, Louisiana
ETHNICITY: Cajun
DESCRIPTION: Mesh Mardi Gras Mask
MAKER: Kindy Devillier, Eunice, Louisiana (1975- )
CEREMONY: Courir de Mardi Gras
AGE: 2019
MAIN MATERIAL: steel wire mesh
OTHER MATERIALS: steel wire mesh; cotton cloth; sweetgum seedballs; plastic and wood buttons; 12-gauge shotgun shell; Spanish Moss; felt; elastic band; glue; paint

In Catholic practice, Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the last day of celebration of Carnival before the fasting period of Lent. In the Acadiana country of southern Louisiana, the descendants of French Canadian immigrants known as “Cajuns” (short for “Acadians”) celebrate Mardi Gras in a manner quite different from the better known Carnival of New Orleans.  The Courir de Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras parade) occurs in most towns of Cajun country only on Mardi Gras itself.

Masqueraders wear full or partial wire mesh masks and quilted suits with tall, conical hats covered in colorful fabric.  They either ride from farm to farm on horseback or drive as a group in trucks with an unmasked leader wearing the traditional Mardi Gras colors of green, purple, and gold.  When they reach a farm, the captain, who carries a whip in one hand and a white flag in the other, approaches the farmer and asks: “Le Mardi Gras demande votre permission pour visiter ta maison” (“The Mardi Gras requests permission to visit your house”), or words to that effect. Upon assent, the revelers descend and run or crawl toward the house, singing a begging song, then exploding into pranks and comedic antics while the captain tries to subdue them with his whip. The only way to make them leave is to donate gifts or money, traditionally a chicken for the evening gumbo, in which the farmer is invited to partake.

For more on the Acadian Carnival celebration, see the excellent book by Carl Lindahl and Carolyn Ware, Cajun Mardi Gras Masks (University Press of Mississippi, 1997).


A short video featuring Cajun Mardi Gras in Eunice, Louisiana, 2019.

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TITLE: Cajun Mardi Gras
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUB-REGION: Acadiana, Louisiana
ETHNICITY: Cajun
DESCRIPTION: Mesh Mardi Gras Mask
MAKER: Kindy Devillier, Eunice, Louisiana (1975- )
CEREMONY: Courir de Mardi Gras
AGE: 2019
MAIN MATERIAL: steel wire mesh
OTHER MATERIALS: plastic sheet; felt; synthetic fur and hair; plastic buttons; sweetgum seedball; paint; elastic band

In Catholic practice, Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the last day of celebration of Carnival before the fasting period of Lent. In the Acadiana country of southern Louisiana, the descendants of French Canadian immigrants known as “Cajuns” (short for “Acadians”) celebrate Mardi Gras in a manner quite different from the better known Carnival of New Orleans.  The Courir de Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras parade) occurs in most towns of Cajun country only on Mardi Gras itself.

Masqueraders wear full or partial wire mesh masks and quilted suits with tall, conical hats covered in colorful fabric.  They either ride from farm to farm on horseback or drive as a group in trucks with an unmasked leader wearing the traditional Mardi Gras colors of green, purple, and gold.  When they reach a farm, the captain, who carries a whip in one hand and a white flag in the other, approaches the farmer and asks: “Le Mardi Gras demande votre permission pour visiter ta maison” (“The Mardi Gras requests permission to visit your house”), or words to that effect. Upon assent, the revelers descend and run or crawl toward the house, singing a begging song, then exploding into pranks and comedic antics while the captain tries to subdue them with his whip. The only way to make them leave is to donate gifts or money, traditionally a chicken for the evening gumbo, in which the farmer is invited to partake.

This specific mask was made by a popular local mask maker and worn in the 2019 Courir de Mardi Gras in Eunice, Louisiana by Arnold Natali of the nearby town of Basile.

For more on the Acadian Carnival celebration, see the excellent book by Carl Lindahl and Carolyn Ware, Cajun Mardi Gras Masks (University Press of Mississippi, 1997).


A short video featuring Cajun Mardi Gras in Eunice, Louisiana, 2019.

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TITLE: Capra Mask
TYPE: hood mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Romania
ETHNICITY: Romanian-Moldovan
DESCRIPTION: Bătrânul (Old Man) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Capra (Goat Dance)
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wool
OTHER MATERIALS: dyed cotton cloth; goat leather and hair; cotton batting; dyed cotton tassels; stitching; plastic buttons

The capra, or goat dance, is performed in parts of rural Romania on New Year’s Eve as part of a caroling tradition. In pre-Christian times, the ritual was probably intended to drive away winter spirits and purify the village. In the dance, masqueraders in bătrânul (old man) masks and costumes and large bells dance to the music of traditional pipes with either a living goat or a masquerader dressed as one.

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TITLE: Fariseo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Queretaro
ETHNICITY: Otomí
DESCRIPTION: Fariseo (Pharisee) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in El Doctor
CEREMONY: Semana Santa (Holy Week)
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: linen
OTHER MATERIALS: glue; cotton cloth; ixtle fiber; paint

During Semana Santa (Holy Week) in the small mountain town of El Doctor, Queretaro, townspeople reenact the Passion of Jesus Christ in a unique manner. Participants wear stiff cloth animal masks, known as fariseos (Pharisees) or judios (Jews) and persecute a person who portrays the torture and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. The fariseos make jokes and mock Jesus, but in the end are converted to Christianity when Jesus is portrayed as resurrected.

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TITLE: Waq’ollo
TYPE: hood mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Peru
ETHNICITY: Quechua
DESCRIPTION: Waq’ollo Mask for Qhapaq Q’olla
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Dance of the Qhapaq Q’olla (Qoyllur Rit’i; Corpus Christi; Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen)
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed and knitted llama wool
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

In the Altiplano of Bolivia and Peru, the Quechua and Aymara descendants of the Incans still celebrate Qoyllur Rit’i, the Snow Star Festival in late May or early June to hale the reappearance of the Pleiades constellation and the harvest. Although the Catholic Church has attempted to co-opt the event, it maintains its essentially pre-Spanish conquest character.  Pilgrims from around Peru assemble in the Sinakara Valley in various costumes to dance in celebration. The Qhapaq Q’olla (“mighty Indian”) is one such character, dancing in the waq’ollo mask shown here with a hat, woven sling and a dried vicuña skin. Supposedly they represent a merchant who is half human and half llama, and who brings goods to the Cusco region for sale from the jungle and Paucartambo region, such as pisco liquor. Their roles are primarily that of clown, but they also dance and sing to the Virgin of Paucartambo. They sometimes wear a square flat hat called an aqarapi, and dance in a group.  The group is composed of a Mayor (alcalde), who carries a wooden staff of authority and a black crucifix on his mask, and his wife (la Imilla), a child (q’ollita), two captains, a llama herder (llamero), who wanders into the crowd to pretend to sell his goods, and a group of q’ollas dancing in two rows.  The imilla has a face covered by a black veil.  Qhapaq Q’olla also dance at Corpus Christi parades in Cusco and other religious celebrations.

The q’ollas, aligned according to their age, dance together, led by the captains. Sometimes children called chanako accompany them as well. The musical ensemble that accompanies them consists of a violin, an accordion, a bass drum and several Quena performers.  The q’ollas are always men born in Paucartambo. The costume consists of a flat, rectangular hat (aqarapi) decorated with sequins, old coins or beads; the waq’ollo; a lliclla skin made of vicuña wool, and the qepi that contains a young dead vicuña.  the dance, the collas sing Quechua songs about their commercial activity, their journey to Cusco, and their protective saints.


Click above to watch a short documentary on Corpus Christi in Cusco, Peru.

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