TITLE: Cajun Mardi Gras Clown Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUB-REGION: Acadiana, Louisiana
DESCRIPTION: Mesh Mardi Gras clown mask
MAKER: Chris Raymond (Metairie, Louisiana, 1964- )
CEREMONY: Courir de Mardi Gras
AGE: 2014
MAIN MATERIAL: steel wire mesh
OTHER MATERIALS: dyed cotton cloth; polyester border and fringe; glue; 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.

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.


TITLE: Achachi Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Bolivia
ETHNICITY: Quechua and Aymara
DESCRIPTION: Achachi (Foreman) helmet mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Oruro
CEREMONY: Carnival (La Morenada)
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: tin sheet
OTHER MATERIALS: cotton cloth; plant fibers; wire; paint; dyed ostrich feathers

The Morenada (Dance of the Moors) is an annual ceremony in several towns in the Altiplano region of Bolivia, Peru, and northern Chile, usually incorporated into Carnival.  The dance includes both male and female Moors dancing in a group with whips, rattles, or scepters. A King of the Moors (Rey de Morenos) presides and coordinates the dance. The dance typically occurs in the course of a parade, with marching bands playing musical scores for the dancers.  The precise origins of the Morenada are the subject of debate, with most specialists concluding that the dance was inspired by African slaves brought to Bolivia to work the mines or the subsequent integration of Africans into the Yungas community near La Paz.  The morena wears a fancy version of the traditional Bolivian costume with the classic bowler hat.

This mask represents an achachi, an old, bald man who previously worked as a captain or slave-driver under a colonial landowner.  The achachi may be represented as a black or white man (as here), but in either case he has a long, aquiline nose, bushy beard, cruel expression, and elaborate costume.

This specific mask was fashioned by a skilled mask-maker (caretero) in Oruro in the 1980s or 1990s. By this time, mask makers had ceased using linen soaked in plaster for their masks and begun using shaped tin or steel sheet, often recycled from old oil drums.  Hand painting had also begun to give way to spray painting; both techniques were used on this mask.

For more on Bolivian masquerade, see Peter McFarren ed., Masks of the Bolivian Andes (La Paz: Editorial Quipus/Banco Mercantil SA, 1993).