TITLE: Xantolo Devil Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: San Luís Potosí
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Diablo (Devil) Mask
MAKER: Hector Saúl Orta Fernández (1985- , San Martín Chalchicuautla)
CEREMONY: Day of the Dead (Xantolo)
AGE: 2021
MAIN MATERIAL: calfskin
OTHER MATERIALS: bull horns; javelina teeth; glue; cotton cloth; oi-based paint; foam rubber; polyester straps; recycled truck tire ears and tongue; twine; plastic cloth; metal hardware

Day of the Dead is celebrated in many parts of Mexico. In San Luís Potosí, the celebration is called Xantolo and differs from region to region.  In the Huasteca region, some villages are primarily Nahua in ethnicity, and others are primarily Tenek. The village of San Martín Chalchicuautla is mainly Nahua. Xantolo in the Nahua language is called Miijkailjuitl, and it is celebrated with decorations of the graves of ancestors using flowers (primarily marigolds and coxcombs) and representations of the Catrina, an elaborate female skeleton figure. In San Martín, the celebration also includes masked dances to the music of guitars and violin.

The dance is fairly elaborate, with an outer ring of viejos (old men), viejas (old women), and two paired characters known as El Cole and La Mamanina. The middle ring is populated with diablos (devils) with varied appearances, but primarily having long ears, horns, and a long tongue. There is also a character called El Caminito, who resembles a horseman riding a toy wooden horse (and possibly intended to represent St. James the Apostle). The inner ring has at least one Catrina representing death, and male and female “Comanches,” meant to represent North American indigenous warriors, who carry whips. They dance in a circle, and at some point the Cole may flirt with the Mamanina or a vieja, satirizing a drunken and lecherous old man to the amusement of onlookers. The dances are repeated throughout the day, and the dancers are thought to lend their bodies to dead ancestors to participate in the celebration.

This devil mask was danced by its maker, Hector Orta, in the Xantolo celebration of San Martín Chalchicuautla of 2021.

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TITLE: Xantolo La Comanche Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: San Luís Potosí
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: La Comanche (Female Comanche) Mask
MAKER: José Hernández (1992- , San Martín Chalchicuautla)
CEREMONY: Day of the Dead (Xantolo)
AGE: 2022
MAIN MATERIAL: calfskin
OTHER MATERIALS: aluminum sheet; stitching; glue; foam rubber; oil-based paint; shoelaces

Day of the Dead is celebrated in many parts of Mexico. In San Luís Potosí, the celebration is called Xantolo and differs from region to region.  In the Huasteca region, some villages are primarily Nahua in ethnicity, and others are primarily Tenek. The village of San Martín Chalchicuautla is mainly Nahua. Xantolo in the Nahua language is called Miijkailjuitl, and it is celebrated with decorations of the graves of ancestors using flowers (primarily marigolds and coxcombs) and representations of the Catrina, an elaborate female skeleton figure. In San Martín, the celebration also includes masked dances to the music of guitars and violin.

The dance is fairly elaborate, with an outer ring of viejos (old men), viejas (old women), and two paired characters known as El Cole and La Mamanina. The middle ring is populated with diablos (devils) with varied appearances, but primarily having long ears, horns, and a long tongue. There is also a character called El Caminito, who resembles a horseman riding a toy wooden horse (and possibly intended to represent St. James the Apostle). The inner ring has at least one Catrina representing death, and male and female “Comanches,” meant to represent North American indigenous warriors, who carry whips. They dance in a circle, and at some point the Cole may flirt with the Mamanina or a vieja, satirizing a drunken and lecherous old man to the amusement of onlookers. The dances are repeated throughout the day, and the dancers are thought to lend their bodies to dead ancestors to participate in the celebration.

Comanches can be male or female. The metal crown is intended to represent a feathered headdress and on some masks includes actual feathers (usually of a peacock). Males tend to have painted mustaches and wear masculine clothing, while females wear dresses and have pink circles on their cheeks and bright pink or red lips.

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TITLE: Xantolo El Cole Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: San Luís Potosí
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: El Cole (The School) Mask
MAKER: Herman Chávez Guerrero (1963- , San Martín Chalchicuautla)
CEREMONY: Day of the Dead (Xantolo)
AGE: 2022
MAIN MATERIAL: goat leather & fur
OTHER MATERIALS: stitching; cotton cloth; cow tail beard; glue; oil-based paint; elastic straps

Day of the Dead is celebrated in many parts of Mexico. In San Luís Potosí, the celebration is called Xantolo and differs from region to region.  In the Huasteca region, some villages are primarily Nahua in ethnicity, and others are primarily Tenek. The village of San Martín Chalchicuautla is mainly Nahua. Xantolo in the Nahua language is called Miijkailjuitl, and it is celebrated with decorations of the graves of ancestors using flowers (primarily marigolds and coxcombs) and representations of the Catrina, an elaborate female skeleton figure. In San Martín, the celebration also includes masked dances to the music of guitars and violin.

The dance is fairly elaborate, with an outer ring of viejos (old men), viejas (old women), and two paired characters known as El Cole and La Mamanina. The middle ring is populated with diablos (devils) with varied appearances, but primarily having long ears, horns, and a long tongue. There is also a character called El Caminito, who resembles a horseman riding a toy wooden horse (and possibly intended to represent St. James the Apostle). The inner ring has at least one Catrina representing death, and male and female “Comanches,” meant to represent North American indigenous warriors, who carry whips. They dance in a circle, and at some point the Cole may flirt with the Mamanina or a vieja, satirizing a drunken and lecherous old man to the amusement of onlookers. The dances are repeated throughout the day, and the dancers are thought to lend their bodies to dead ancestors to participate in the celebration.

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TITLE: Cuchillo Mask and Hat
TYPE: face mask; accessory
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Tlaxcala
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Cuchillo (Knife) Mask with Hat
MAKER: Isaac Salóm (1949-2021, Huejotzingo, Puebla)
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE (Mask): 1971
AGE (Hat): 2022
MAIN MATERIAL: leather (calfskin)
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; goat leather and fur; cotton thread; elastic straps

The state of Tlaxcala, Mexico, has a variety of traditions and masks used during Carnival. In the town of Tloluca, the main dance is the Danza de los Cuchillos (Dance of the Knives). The cuchillo mask is made of calfskin and worn by dancers who strap knives to their calves and dance by clicking them together. Around them dance several characters dressed in cowboy (charro) costumes. These include one wearing a black mask, who represents a demon, and several wearing masks composed of goat fur. In some dances, a witch appears who represents the cruel foreman of the plantation whom the dancers (the cuchillos and charros) ultimately are said to have hung. They dance a variety of dances, including the Knives Dance and a circular dance in which the dancers take turns carrying each other.

This mask was danced by Ruperto Olivares Hernández (1969- , Toluca de Guadalupe, Tlaxcala) of the Pandilla Cuchillos y Charros for fifty-one years (1971-2022), although it was made in the town of Huejotzingo in the neighboring state of Puebla, where similar leather masks are used to celebrate the Mexican victory over the French on May 5, 1862. The elaborate hat features two crossed knives decorating the front, to designate the Carnival dancer as a Cuchillo.



A brief documentary about Carnival in the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico.

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TITLE: Commedia dell’Arte Zanni
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Italy
ETHNICITY: Italian
DESCRIPTION: Zanni Mask
MAKER: Cesare Ginoletti (?)
CEREMONY: Commedia dell’Arte; Carnival
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: airbrushed paint; lacquer; hardware

The Commedia dell’Arte was a form of public entertainment that succeeded the classical Roman theater in Italy.  Like classical theater, Commedia performers wore leather masks to represent stock characters and often performed in amphitheaters to large audiences.  However, the Commedia differed in having only a very basic plot sketch, with most of the lines invented extemporaneously by the actors.  The Commedia‘s ability to stay topical and its frequent resort to vulgar humor, combined with the considerable talent of Italian troupes that traveled throughout Europe, made this form of theater extremely popular throughout the early 17th to late 19th centuries. Masked actors had to compensate for their inability to convey facial emotion through posture, gesture, and vocal nuance.

Zanni (sometimes spelled Zani or Zane) is among the oldest stock characters of the Commedia. The Zanni is a servant. Originally, Zanni represented an immigrant who served the character known as Don Pantalone. The mask is always a half-mask to facilitate conversation, and the nose may be short or long. Usually, Zanni wears a peaked hat and carries a wooden sword. His personality was typically portrayed as voracious, coarse, loud, emotional, ignorant scoundrel who nonetheless could sometimes manage the impossible. Eventually, specific forms of Zanni, such as Arlecchino (Harlequin), Pulcinella (Punch) and Brighella became more popular.

To learn more about Commedia dell’Arte, see Pierre Louis Duchartre, The Italian Comedy (Dover Pubs., 1966).

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TITLE: New Year’s Bear Mask
TYPE: hood mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Romania
ETHNICITY: Romanian-Moldovan
DESCRIPTION: Urs (Bear) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Neamt
CEREMONY: New Year’s Eve Celebration
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: sheep leather and wool
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; metal hardware; metal crucifix; cotton cloth; cotton tassels

The urs, or bear dance, is performed in parts of rural Romania on New Year’s Eve, usually in the form of a group dance to the beat of drums and flutes. The dancers roar, chant or sing as they proceed through the village.  The ritual dates back to pre-Christian times and is intended to drive away winter spirits and purify the village. This mask was danced in Neamt for approximately 15 years.

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TITLE: Yaqui Chapayeka Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Sonora
ETHNICITY: Yaqui
DESCRIPTION: Chapayeka Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Potam, Sonora
CEREMONY: Holy Week (Fariseo Dance-Drama)
FUNCTION: celebration; purification; social control
AGE: 2008
MAIN MATERIAL: goat leather and fur
OTHER MATERIALS: plastic sheet; paint

The Yaqui and related Mayo people inhabit the desert in the Mexican state of Sonora and southern Arizona. Their religious beliefs are a syncretic version of traditional animist practices and Jesuitical Catholicism. The fariseos (Mayo) or chapayekas (Yaqui) are an important society in both communities and are mainly active during the three months surrounding Holy Week. The fariseos in theory represent Pharisees, or the Jews (judios) who supposedly condemned Jesus (it was actually the Romans), and are always represented by leather helmets with wood or painted faces.

Fariseos are organized by a society, with each celebration having a fariseo cabo (head Pharisee) who goes unmasked and organizes the dancers. To join the fariseo society, an applicant must be endorsed by a godfather (padrino) who is already a fariseo, and a godmother (padrina) who is a singer.

Fariseos usually begin dancing for several hours at the houses where idols of saints are kept, and then they come to dance in the town ramadas in the plaza, where the pasko’olas, deer dancer, and coyote dancers have been dancing.

In some village ceremonies, the fariseos, representing evil, repeatedly attack the church and are repelled by Christians throwing flowers. In others, unmasked fariseos represent the Roman persecutors of Christ bearing wooden swords and have battles with masked Christian caballeros (cavalry). Ultimately, the fariseos are defeated and convert to Christianity.  In still other villages, the fariseos follow the procession of the icons of the church and mimic searching for Jesus. Dancing as a fariseo is believed to put the dancer in the good graces of Jesus. When the masked fariseos dance, the dancer holds a rosary with a cross in his mouth during the ceremony to ward off evil.

Normally, all fariseo masks except two are burned after Holy Week. More are made in preparation for the following year. The two that are preserved are kept to be buried with any member of the fariseo society who happens to die during that year. Once worn, the masks are considered sacred objects, because the fariseos pray while dancing.

During Holy Week, the fariseo society takes over most of the legal, police, and religious ceremonies of the Yaqui and Mayo villages. For example, working was traditionally prohibited on Ash Wednesday, and anyone caught working would be brought before the fariseo cabo and fined or, if he or she had no money, forced to drag a heavy mesquite cross along the procession route. At Lent, the fariseos go from house to house, collecting donations for the Fiesta de la Gloria and other religious celebrations.

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TITLE: Mayo Fariseo
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Sonora
ETHNICITY: Mayo
DESCRIPTION: Fariseo (Chapayeka) Mask
MAKER: Jose Valenzuela (El Once, Las Nachuquis, Navajoa, Sonora)
CEREMONY: Holy Week (Fariseo Dance-Drama)
FUNCTION: celebration; purification; social control
AGE: 2007
MAIN MATERIAL: goat leather and fur
OTHER MATERIALS: cotton hat; stitching; paint

The Yaqui and related Mayo people inhabit the desert in the Mexican state of Sonora and southern Arizona. Their religious beliefs are a syncretic version of traditional animist practices and Jesuitical Catholicism. The fariseos (Mayo) or chapayekas (Yaqui) are an important society in both communities and are mainly active during the three months surrounding Holy Week. The fariseos in theory represent Pharisees, or the Jews (judios) who supposedly condemned Jesus (it was actually the Romans), and are always represented by leather helmets with wood or painted faces.

Fariseos are organized by a society, with each celebration having a fariseo cabo (head Pharisee) who goes unmasked and organizes the dancers. To join the fariseo society, an applicant must be endorsed by a godfather (padrino) who is already a fariseo, and a godmother (padrina) who is a singer.

Fariseos usually begin dancing for several hours at the houses where idols of saints are kept, and then they come to dance in the town ramadas in the plaza, where the pasko’olas, deer dancer, and coyote dancers have been dancing.

In some village ceremonies, the fariseos, representing evil, repeatedly attack the church and are repelled by Christians throwing flowers. In others, unmasked fariseos represent the Roman persecutors of Christ bearing wooden swords and have battles with masked Christian caballeros (cavalry). Ultimately, the fariseos are defeated and convert to Christianity.  In still other villages, the fariseos follow the procession of the icons of the church and mimic searching for Jesus. Dancing as a fariseo is believed to put the dancer in the good graces of Jesus. When the masked fariseos dance, the dancer holds a rosary with a cross in his mouth during the ceremony to ward off evil.

Normally, all fariseo masks except two are burned after Holy Week. More are made in preparation for the following year. The two that are preserved are kept to be buried with any member of the fariseo society who happens to die during that year. Once worn, the masks are considered sacred objects, because the fariseos pray while dancing.

During Holy Week, the fariseo society takes over most of the legal, police, and religious ceremonies of the Yaqui and Mayo villages. For example, working was traditionally prohibited on Ash Wednesday, and anyone caught working would be brought before the fariseo cabo and fined or, if he or she had no money, forced to drag a heavy mesquite cross along the procession route. At Lent, the fariseos go from house to house, collecting donations for the Fiesta de la Gloria and other religious celebrations.

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TITLE: Mayo Fariseo
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Sonora
ETHNICITY: Mayo
DESCRIPTION: Fariseo (Chapayeka) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Etchojoa, Sonora
CEREMONY: Holy Week (Fariseo Dance-Drama)
FUNCTION: celebration; purification; social control
AGE: late 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: goat leather and fur
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; plastic ears; paint

The Yaqui and related Mayo people inhabit the desert in the Mexican state of Sonora and southern Arizona. Their religious beliefs are a syncretic version of traditional animist practices and Jesuitical Catholicism. The fariseos (Mayo) or chapayekas (Yaqui) are an important society in both communities and are mainly active during the three months surrounding Holy Week. The fariseos in theory represent Pharisees, or the Jews (judios) who supposedly condemned Jesus (it was actually the Romans), and are always represented by leather helmets with wood or painted faces.

Fariseos are organized by a society, with each celebration having a fariseo cabo (head Pharisee) who goes unmasked and organizes the dancers. To join the fariseo society, an applicant must be endorsed by a godfather (padrino) who is already a fariseo, and a godmother (padrina) who is a singer.

Fariseos usually begin dancing for several hours at the houses where idols of saints are kept, and then they come to dance in the town ramadas in the plaza, where the pasko’olas, deer dancer, and coyote dancers have been dancing.

In some village ceremonies, the fariseos, representing evil, repeatedly attack the church and are repelled by Christians throwing flowers. In others, unmasked fariseos represent the Roman persecutors of Christ bearing wooden swords and have battles with masked Christian caballeros (cavalry). Ultimately, the fariseos are defeated and convert to Christianity.  In still other villages, the fariseos follow the procession of the icons of the church and mimic searching for Jesus. Dancing as a fariseo is believed to put the dancer in the good graces of Jesus. When the masked fariseos dance, the dancer holds a rosary with a cross in his mouth during the ceremony to ward off evil.

Normally, all fariseo masks except two are burned after Holy Week. More are made in preparation for the following year. The two that are preserved are kept to be buried with any member of the fariseo society who happens to die during that year. Once worn, the masks are considered sacred objects, because the fariseos pray while dancing.

During Holy Week, the fariseo society takes over most of the legal, police, and religious ceremonies of the Yaqui and Mayo villages. For example, working was traditionally prohibited on Ash Wednesday, and anyone caught working would be brought before the fariseo cabo and fined or, if he or she had no money, forced to drag a heavy mesquite cross along the procession route. At Lent, the fariseos go from house to house, collecting donations for the Fiesta de la Gloria and other religious celebrations.

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TITLE: Frank’s Brain Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Leather Zombie Mask
MAKER: William Rockwell, Lakewood, Colorado (1989- )
CEREMONY: Halloween
AGE: 2019
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: metal grommets; acrylic paint

Halloween is one of the major secular festivals in the United States, celebrated on October 31st each year.  It originated in pre-Christian times, possibly among the ancient Celts, who practiced Samhain in late fall by wearing frightening costumes and lighting bonfires in mid-autumn to scare away ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1st as a day to honor all the saints collectively. The celebration prior to this All Saints Day became known as All Hallows’ Eve (hence the shortened name, All Hallowe’en, eventually elided to Halloween), and involved many of the same traditions practiced by the Celts.

Halloween formerly had many traditions that varied by region.  In modern and relatively homogenized practice, Halloween generally has three main components: costumed parties, “trick-or-treating,” and haunted houses.  Costumed parties are the modern descendant of social activities designed to honor the saints and create solidarity in the community. Children’s parties typically involved games with prizes, such as bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins and other relatively dry squash into frightening “jack-o-lanterns” with candles inside for illumination.  Adult parties commonly involve less innocent games and elaborate decorations to create a scary mood.

Trick-or-treating is the children’s practice of wearing scary costumes to extort candy and other sweets from neighbors. Like roaming goblins, the monsters visiting the house would demand a treat or threaten to play a nasty trick on the neighbor. The threat is of course a formality, as sharing candy with trick-or-treaters is considered a mandatory practice for friendly and community-spirited neighbors. In modern practice, many children have abandoned the tradition of wearing frightening costumes and have leaned toward fantasy characters such as superheroes, princesses, and fairies.

Haunted houses are a relatively modern innovation.  They may be designed and staffed by volunteers or for profit, and generally take the form of a decrepit mansion haunted by ghosts, mad scientists, monsters, the walking dead, etc. The idea is to inspire terror and wonder in a factually safe environment.

In addition, many Americans celebrate by watching horror movies (the release of which Hollywood times to coincide with the Halloween season), and in some regions, most notably Greenwich Village, Manhattan in New York and Salem, Massachusetts, major costumed parades are organized each year.  In many cities, “zombie walks” composed of masses of costumed zombies have been organized as well.

Popular masks and costumes include devils, zombies, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, mummies, witches, pirates, political figures, and characters from popular culture, such as Frankenstein’s monster. However, Halloween costumes can include almost anything, including inanimate objects and abstractions.  The choice is limited only by the imagination of the masquerader.  Masks and costumes depicting offensive racial stereotypes, popular prior to the 1980s, are no longer widely used.

Click above to watch a documentary about Halloween in the United States.

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