TITLE: Moor (Catrina) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Moro (Moor) Mask in the form of a Catrina
MAKER: Rafael Mesa Oliva (1978- , Naolinco de Victoria)
CEREMONY: Fiesta de San Mateo (Danza de los Pilatos)
AGE: 2022
MAIN MATERIAL: equimite wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; cotton cords

The Danza de los Pilatos, also called La Danza de los Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians), 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, as here, skeletons. This mask represents a Moor in the form of a Day of the Dead skull, called a catrina. It was carved by the master craftsman, Rafael Mesa Oliva.

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.

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TITLE: Moor (Eagle Warrior) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Moro (Moor) Mask in the form of a Cuauhtli (Eagle Warrior)
MAKER: Rafael Mesa Oliva (1978- , Naolinco de Victoria)
CEREMONY: Fiesta de San Mateo (Danza de los Pilatos)
AGE: 2022
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; lacquer; adhesive; cotton cords

The Danza de los Pilatos, also called La Danza de los Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians), 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. Although most characters are evil, others, such as Apaches (representing indigenous Americans), are portrayed as Moors because indigenous peoples opposed the Catholic invasion of Mexico. This mask represents an Aztec cuauhtli, or eagle warrior.

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.

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TITLE: Pilato Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Puebla
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Pilato (Pontius Pilate) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Danza de los Santiagueros
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Danza de la Conquista (Dance of the Conquest) in Mexico can refer either to the conquest of the Aztecs by the Spaniards or to the conquest (properly, reconquest) of Spain from the Saracens by the European Christians. This mask is used for reenacting the latter conquest, which is frequently and more correctly called the Danza de los Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians) or, in the state of Puebla, the Danza de los Santiagueros (Dance of the St. Jameses). This dance was shaped by 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. Important characters include Spaniards, Moors (called either Moros or Pilatos), saints, angels, and devils.

For more on masks from Puebla, 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: Langnasni Carnival Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Switzerland
SUBREGION: Unknown
ETHNICITY: Swiss
DESCRIPTION: Langnasni (Longnose) Carnival Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fasnacht (carnival)
AGE: 1950s or 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: stain; hardware; rawhide

Fasnacht is what the Tyrolean Swiss call Carnival.  In many towns in Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy, local folk don elaborate masks and costumes to parade through the town.  Different towns have variations on the parade, such as the Schemenlaufen of Imst, the Schellerlaufen of Nassereith, and the Muller and Matschgerer of Innsbruck, Austria.

Little is known about this mask.  It is a classic Langnasni (“Longnose”) type by an unknown carver, made and worn for Carnival, most probably in the 1950s or 1960s.

Unfortunately, the best book on Swiss masking traditions is available in German only: Albert Bärtsch, Holzmasken: Fasnachts- und Maskenbrauchtum in der Schweiz, in Süddeutschland und Österreich (AT Verlag 1993).

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TITLE: Mixtec Marialencha Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Oaxaca
ETHNICITY: Mixtec
DESCRIPTION: Marialencha Mask
MAKER: Luís Morales Ortíz, San Miguel Tlacotepec (1974- )
CEREMONY: Danza de los Rubios
AGE: 2021
MAIN MATERIAL: avocado wood
OTHER MATERIALS: plastic eyes; adhesive; false eyelashes; acrylic paint

The Danza de los Rubios (Dance of the Blond Ones) is performed by the Mixtec people of Juxtlahuaca district on patron saint holidays, such the Festival of St. James (Fiesta de Santiago el Apostól) in Santiago Juxtlahuaca in late July. The dance is performed in pairs to the music a violin and guitar and tells a story of cow herders (vaqueros) and their women, who dance in a double line. The male mask, the rubio, was probably originally intended to mock the Spaniards, with their blue eyes, mustaches, and squint at the harsh Mexican sun. Over time, the fun of ridiculing the disappearing Spaniards must have paled, and the characters came to represent the indigenous cow herders and their wives (called marialenchas). The marialencha wears a linen skirt, petticoat, a fancy shawl (rebozo), scarves, a wide-brimmed sombrero, and huaraches (leather sandals worn by native Mexicans).

Normally, masks of this region are made of sabino wood (Mexican cypress), but other woods (such as avocado, in this case) may substitute when the sabino is unavailable.

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TITLE: Monkey Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Ecuador
SUBREGION: Cotopaxi
ETHNICITY: Mestizo
DESCRIPTION: Mono (Monkey) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fiesta de la Mama Negra
AGE: ca. 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

The Fiesta de la Mama Negra (Festival of the Black Mama) is a celebration held in September and again in early November in Latacunga, Ecuador. The event originates in pre-colonial indigenous practices and was adapted to honor the Virgin of Mercy (Virgen de la Merced) after Catholic conversion, in thanks for her supposed  intervention to protect the population from eruptions from the nearby Cotopaxi volcano.  The festival has become one of the most important in Latacunga, and includes a parade (comparsa) featuring the Mama Negra prominently as an African version of Mary, mother of Jesus.

Other important masks include animals such as this dog, cats, or jaguars; the Rey Moro (King Moor, showing the influence of the Conquistadors); angels; clowns (payasos abanderados); and miscellaneous other characters. This festival opens with the huacos, representing precolonial Aymara shamans who parade to cure the diseases of the crowd. This mask represents a monkey, several species of which inhabit Ecuador, including the Mangled Howler Monkey, the Ecuadorian Capuchin, the Squirrel Monkey, the Black-Headed Spider Monkey, and the Brown-Mantled Tamarin.

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TITLE: Viejito Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Michoacan
ETHNICITY: Purépecha
DESCRIPTION: Viejito (Little Old Man) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Danza de los Viejitos
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; maque; cotton thread; ixtle fiber; shoelaces

The Danza de los Viejitos is one of the oldest ceremonies in the Purépecha regions of Michoacán. In it, four dancers dressed as old men, with white suits, a colorful sarape, beribboned straw hat, wooden clogs, and a wooden cane, dance to the music of violins, clarinets, and guitars. The purpose of the dance is to pray for a good harvest. Normally, four dancers appear, representing the four primordial elements (earth, fire, water, and air) and the four colors of maize (yellow, red, blue, white). Masks may be made of wood, paste, or terra cotta.

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TITLE: Captain (?) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Ecuador
SUBREGION: Cotopaxi
ETHNICITY: Mestizo
DESCRIPTION: Unknown mask, probably representing the Capitán (Captain)
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fiesta de la Mama Negra
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

The Fiesta de la Mama Negra (Festival of the Black Mama) is a celebration held in September and again in early November in Latacunga, Ecuador. The event originates in pre-colonial indigenous practices and was adapted to honor the Virgin of Mercy (Virgen de la Merced) after Catholic conversion, in thanks for her supposed  intervention to protect the population from eruptions from the nearby Cotopaxi volcano.  The festival has become one of the most important in Latacunga, and includes a parade (comparsa) featuring the Mama Negra prominently as an African version of Mary, mother of Jesus.

Other important masks include animals such as this dog, cats, or jaguars; the Rey Moro (King Moor, showing the influence of the Conquistadors); angels; clowns (payasos abanderados); and miscellaneous other characters. This festival opens with the huacos, representing precolonial Aymara shamans who parade to cure the diseases of the crowd. This mask probably represents the Captain (capitán), the Spanish viceroy appointed by the King of Spain. He leads a parade with an unsheathed sword, dancing comically to the rhythm of a band.

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TITLE: Chilolo Pilato Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Oaxaca
ETHNICITY: Mixtec
DESCRIPTION: Pilato Mask
MAKER: Luís Morales Ortíz, San Miguel Tlacotepec (1974- )
CEREMONY: Carnival (Danza de los Chilolos)
AGE: 2021
MAIN MATERIAL: avocado wood
OTHER MATERIALS: acrylic paint

The Danza de los Chilolos is performed by the Mixtec people of Juxtlahuaca district and surrounding towns during Carnival or on special occasions, such as the inauguration of a church. The word “chilolo” is a Spanish version of the Mixtec term Lolo Nchicaa, meaning Ritual of the Jaguar. As the name suggests, this dance originates before the Spanish invasion and is one of the oldest still danced in Oaxaca.

It is based on a legend of a great chief of Yosocuia who had amassed a large fortune, but who decided the leave the village in the care of his sons. He went to Tututepec, married a noblewoman, and started a new family, but he longed for his old kingdom. His wife wished him to remain and, on the advice of a priest, sought the help of a mystical creature, the Nahual. The Nahual transformed itself into a jaguar and slaughtered all the cattle of the chief’s sons, so that when he arrived back in Yosocuia, he saw nothing but poverty. He decides to hunt the jaguar, taking with him his best guerreros del sol (Warriors of the Sun), also called Pilatos, who wear this mask. The chief is represented by a character known as Santiaguito.

The Danza de los Chilolos is accompanied by a small orchestra of a Mixtec small, square drum and stick (tamborcito) made from goat hide, and a simple reed flute. The chilolos perform choreographed steps, wearing elaborate costumes and colorful feathered crowns made of wood and adorned with mirrors. They wear bells on their boots that shake as they dance, and carry a sword in one hand and a flag in the other. Much of the symbolism of the dance relates to Catholicism, because Spanish missionaries did not tolerate pre-Christian traditions and compelled the Mixtecs to corrupt their culture with Catholic doctrines.

Normally, masks of this region are made of sabino wood (Mexican cypress), but other woods (such as avocado, in this case) may substitute when the sabino is unavailable.

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TITLE: Mixtec Rubio Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Oaxaca
ETHNICITY: Mixtec
DESCRIPTION: Rubio (Blond One) Mask
MAKER: Luís Morales Ortíz, San Miguel Tlacotepec (1974- )
CEREMONY: Danza de los Rubios
AGE: 2021
MAIN MATERIAL: avocado wood
OTHER MATERIALS: plastic eyes; adhesive; false eyelashes; acrylic paint

The Danza de los Rubios (Dance of the Blond Ones) is performed by the Mixtec people of Juxtlahuaca district on patron saint holidays, such the Festival of St. James (Fiesta de Santiago el Apostól) in Santiago Juxtlahuaca in late July. The dance is performed in pairs to the music a violin and guitar and tells a story of cow herders (vaqueros) and their women, who dance in a double line. The male mask, the rubio, was probably originally intended to mock the Spaniards, with their blue eyes, mustaches, and squint at the harsh Mexican sun. Over time, the fun of ridiculing the disappearing Spaniards must have paled, and the characters came to represent the indigenous cow herders and their wives (called marialenchas).

Normally, masks of this region are made of sabino wood (Mexican cypress), but other woods (such as avocado, in this case) may substitute when the sabino is unavailable.

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