TITLE: Mardi Gras Bird Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUB-REGION: New Orleans, Louisiana
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Leather Bird Mask
MAKER: Richard Thompson (Elmhurst, Illinois, 1957- )
CEREMONY: Mardi Gras
AGE: 2019
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: acrylic paint

In Catholic practice, Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the last day of celebration of Carnival before the fasting period of Lent. In the United States, the holiday is nowhere more vigorously celebrated than in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, a two-week Carnival season terminating on Mardi Gras is celebrated with parades composed of elaborate costumes and masks, floats, marching bands, all organize by private “krewes” composed of public-spirited citizens dedicated to preserving the Mardi Gras tradition. Krewes tend to have a fairly constant structure of officers, who frequently ride horseback in handsome costumes and draped masks, float riders who chuck “throws,” or small gifts such as plastic beaded necklaces, toys, or mementos (usually with the krewe’s name and insignia) into the cheering crowds, and a guest “king” and “queen” of the krewe.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is also typically celebrated with formal balls held by the krewes in honor of the king and queen, and to celebrate the season.  Mask wearing among street celebrants is common as well. Traditionally, Mardi Gras masks are made of formed and painted leather, and can represent any character from real life or fantasy.  In modern practice, cheap masks mass manufactured of sequined cloth or paper maché covered in dyed feathers have become common.

This specific mask was hand made by a skilled artisan in the Finger Lakes region of New York and brought to New Orleans during Mardi Gras to be sold.


Click above to watch a short documentary about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2019 and 2020.

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TITLE: Mardi Gras Rhinoceros
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUB-REGION: New Orleans, Louisiana
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Leather Rhinoceros Mask
MAKER: Richard Thompson (Elmhurst, Illinois, 1957- )
CEREMONY: Mardi Gras
AGE: 2019
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: acrylic paint

In Catholic practice, Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the last day of celebration of Carnival before the fasting period of Lent. In the United States, the holiday is nowhere more vigorously celebrated than in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, a two-week Carnival season terminating on Mardi Gras is celebrated with parades composed of elaborate costumes and masks, floats, marching bands, all organize by private “krewes” composed of public-spirited citizens dedicated to preserving the Mardi Gras tradition. Krewes tend to have a fairly constant structure of officers, who frequently ride horseback in handsome costumes and draped masks, float riders who chuck “throws,” or small gifts such as plastic beaded necklaces, toys, or mementos (usually with the krewe’s name and insignia) into the cheering crowds, and a guest “king” and “queen” of the krewe.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is also typically celebrated with formal balls held by the krewes in honor of the king and queen, and to celebrate the season.  Mask wearing among street celebrants is common as well. Traditionally, Mardi Gras masks are made of formed and painted leather, and can represent any character from real life or fantasy.  In modern practice, cheap masks mass manufactured of sequined cloth or paper maché covered in dyed feathers have become common.

This specific mask was hand made by a skilled artisan in the Finger Lakes region of New York and brought to New Orleans during Mardi Gras to be sold.



Click above to watch a short documentary about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2019 and 2020.

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TITLE: Indian Warrior Mask
TYPE: face mask; accessory
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Puebla
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Indian Warrior (Indio) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Huejotzingo
CEREMONY: Carnival (Battle of Puebla)
AGE: ca. 1940s (repainted in 2015)
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: wire; goat leather and fur; string; paint

The Carnival in Huejotzingo, Puebla is both impressive and unique. In its modern incarnation, it has continued a tradition of mock battles since 1869 or earlier. The Carnival begins with a parade, dancing, music, and fireworks and continues with reenactments of putative historical events. The first is the kidnapping of the daughter of Huejotzingo’s corregidor (mayor) by the bandit Augustín Lorenzo, followed by their wedding. The second is a reenactment of the first marriage of Nahuas by Catholic rituals.

The third and most elaborate reenacts the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 between French and Mexican armed forces. Participants of the four principal neighborhoods of the city are divided into five battalions, each headed by a general.  Over four days, these battalions participate in mock battles, firing wooden muskets with real gunpowder at each other, and visit the cemeteries to pay homage to former members. Some participants are women dressed and masked as men. The five battalions represent various factions in both sides of the conflict.

The Zapadores represent the Mexican nobility who are the imperial guard of Maximilian I or Agustín de Iturbide. They wear clothes mixing Mexican and European elements, with a tall cylindrical hat (penacho) and a large, wide beard. On their side are the Zacapoaxtlas and Indios Serranos. The Zacapoaxtlas represent Mexican cowboys (charros) who fought with General Zaragoza. Their masks have two blond beards, a Mariachi sombrero, and an elaborate costume with a black cape and tones of the Mexican flag (red, white and green). The Indios Serranos represent the indigenous warriors and wear a mask with a long, light-colored beard and a wide palm-leaf hat with a Virgin Mary and elaborate decorations. Their costume includes a water gourd, a leather satchel, and a plant fiber backpack that holds their food (mostly chile peppers).

The Franceses (sometimes called Zuoavos, from the French word Zouaves) wear a blue, fez-like cap (gorro) and a mask with two blond beards like the Zacapoaxtla, with the small difference that the Frances mask is painted slightly lighter in color. They wear a blue cape with both the French and Mexican flags on it and sometimes carry a baguette. Their allies, the Turcos (Turks) represent mercenaries (probably in reality Egyptian) whom the Pueblans associated with Islam and, therefore, hostility to Catholic Mexico. The Turcos wear a turban and a mask with a black, pointed beard.  Their costume includes silk clothes, peacock feathers, and scimitars. All participants on both sides carry mock muskets.

This mask was danced for approximately 80 years by the family of Alejandro Ramírez of Huejotzingo. It was repainted at the family’s request by local caretero José Ciro Pérez in 2015.

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).

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TITLE: Ekoi Ekpo Crest Mask
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ekoi
DESCRIPTION: Ekpo Society Ancestor Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ikem Ceremony
FUNCTION: Secret Society; Funeral
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIALS: wood; antelope leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; kaolin clay; wicker

The Ekoi people, also known as the Ejagham, inhabit the extreme southeastern region of Nigeria and parts of Cameroon. They are a hunting and farming people who live in scattered communities. Each community has a Ngbe or Ekpo (Leopard) Society that helps coordinate political and social events.

Most Ekoi masks take the form of a helmet or crest that sits atop the head. Unlike the masks of other African peoples, Ekoi masks are covered in antelope leather. In the distant past, the skin of killed slaves was used, but now antelope leather is common. Ancestor spirit masks such as these are used by the Ekpo Society, are worn at funerals and other secret society rituals. In the rituals, ceremonial plays known as Ikem (“sharing one heart and mind”) are performed to venerate the ancestors.  The mask is fixed to the dancer’s head and adorned with raffia fiber to hide the dancer’s face and body.

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TITLE: Careto
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Portugal
SUBREGION: Podence
ETHNICITY: Iberian
DESCRIPTION: Careto
MAKER: Luís Filipe Costa (Podence, 1985- )
CEREMONY: Entrudo (Carnival)
AGE: 2017
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; stitching; elastic straps

In Podence, Portugal, Carnival (frequently called Entrudo there) is celebrated in a unique way. Masqueraders put on crude, pointy-nosed masks made of leather, wood, or folded and welded tin sheet, usually painted red, black, or both. Their costumes are a hooded suit of furry cotton yarn and always consisting of red, yellow, and green colored stripes. They also wear leather belts and bandoliers with bells attached, and they wield a stick or club. The caretos appear in groups, running chaotically through the village to harass the young women. The careto during this time is effectively granted immunity from the rules of decorum.  He can violate social norms with impunity, as he is considered the manifestation of a supernatural spirit. Such beliefs strongly imply a lingering pre-Christian origin for the ceremony in this region.

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TITLE: Careto
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Portugal
SUBREGION: Podence
ETHNICITY: Iberian
DESCRIPTION: Careto
MAKER: Luís Filipe Costa (Podence, 1985- )
CEREMONY: Entrudo (Carnival)
AGE: 2017
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; stitching; elastic straps

In Podence, Portugal, Carnival (frequently called Entrudo there) is celebrated in a unique way. Masqueraders put on crude, pointy-nosed masks made of leather, wood, or folded and welded tin sheet, usually painted red, black, or both. Their costumes are a hooded suit of furry cotton yarn and always consisting of red, yellow, and green colored stripes. They also wear leather belts and bandoliers with bells attached, and they wield a stick or club. The caretos appear in groups, running chaotically through the village to harass the young women. The careto during this time is effectively granted immunity from the rules of decorum.  He can violate social norms with impunity, as he is considered the manifestation of a supernatural spirit. Such beliefs strongly imply a lingering pre-Christian origin for the ceremony in this region.

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Click above to watch a short documentary about the tastoanes of Tonalá, Mexico.

TITLE: Tastoan
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Jalisco
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Tastoan Mask
MAKER: Ubaldo Macías Bernabe, Tonalá (1972- )
CEREMONY: Fiesta de Santiago el Apostól
AGE: 2016
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: horse teeth; animal bone; acrylic paint; lacquer; glue paste; wire; thread; elastic bands; horse hair

In parts of Jalisco and Zacatecas, the holiday in honor of Santiago el Apostól (St. James the Apostle) is held every 25th of July. Celebrants carry spears and dress in long pants, leather chaps, and boots, with demonic masks made of wood (Zacatecas) or molded leather (Jalisco) covered with a montera (headdress) of goat hair, horse hair, or plant fiber. The festival commemorates a battle between the indigenous warriors of the area and conquistadors. The appearance of the tastoanes, who represent indigenous warriors, conveys their ferocity through sharp teeth, large noses, and snakes, lizards, scorpions and spiders for decorations. This mask has images of the mythical creatures nahual and nahuala, half jaguar and half human, who symbolize the ferocity of the Tonaltecs. In some cases, the masks are dotted to convey the transmission of diseases such as smallpox and syphilis from the Spaniards to the indigenous peoples.

During the celebration, tastoanes and either three kings wearing ceramic masks or three Aztec priestesses (one representing the Tonaltec queen Tzapotzintli, also known as Tzuapili oor Cihualpilli) carry an image of St. James along a parade route and dance to music carrying swords or whips, after which they make defiant speeches and engage in a mock battle (jugada) with a participant carrying a whip who represents St. James.  At the end of the battle, all the tastoanes die and St. James is victorious. In the past, all tastoanes were male, but recently women have begun to participate as well.  In some towns, an organization such as a Cofradía de Santo Santiago (Fraternity of St. James) organizes the event.

This specific mask was made by the award-winning craftsman Ubaldo Macías of Tonalá and worn in the 2016 Fiesta de Sto. Santiago.

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TITLE: Mayo Fariseo
TYPE: face mask portion of a helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Sinaloa
ETHNICITY: Mayo
DESCRIPTION: Judio (Fariseo) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Mochicahui
CEREMONY: Holy Week (Fariseo Dance-Drama)
FUNCTION: celebration; purification; social control
AGE: ca. 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: metal wire mesh; glue; pigment

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.

This mask was formerly attached to a coyote pelt that was not properly cured and disintegrated over time.

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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: Francisco Gamez, Masiaca (Navojoa, Sonora)
CEREMONY: Holy Week (Fariseo Dance-Drama)
FUNCTION: celebration; purification; social control
AGE: early 2010s
MAIN MATERIAL: javelina leather and fur
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; paint; string; hardware

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.

This mask is made of javelina leather and exaggerates the grotesque aspect of the fariseo by having a wooden penis emerge from and disappear into his mouth where his tongue would be, pulled by a string.

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TITLE: Archareo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Mexico State
ETHNICITY: Mestizo
DESCRIPTION: Archareo (Archer) Mask
MAKER: Daniel Nuñez, San Martín de las Pirámides
CEREMONY: Fiesta de San Martín
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: felt; goat fur; paint; stitching

The Danza de los Archareos (Dance of the Archers), also called the Danza de los Alchilelos, Archileos, Alchareos, and other variants, is performed on the Feast Day of San Martín (April 13th) every year in the village of San Martín de los Pirámides. Similar dances are performed elsewhere in Mexico State and Guerrero.  It is a form of Christians and Moors dance, with the masked archers representing the evil Moors.  The Moors dance to flute and drum music in a group wearing brightly colored outfits.  The Christians similarly dance in a group, mostly unmasked (except for the leader, who has a mock horse and represents St. James the Apostle) and wearing elaborate capes and feathered hats. Eventually, the groups engage in mock battles with swords, which the Christians inevitably win.

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