TITLE: Devil Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Oaxaca
ETHNICITY: Mixtec
DESCRIPTION: Diablo (Devil) Mask
MAKER: Luís Morales Ortíz, San Miguel Tlacotepec (1974- )
CEREMONY: Danza de los Diablos
AGE: 2020
MAIN MATERIAL: avocado wood
OTHER MATERIALS: deer antlers; metal screws; adhesive; plastic eyes; false eyelashes; acrylic paint

The Danza de los Diablos (Dance of the Devils) 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 involves a group of devils (no specific number) in coats and ties, with chivarras (goatskin chaps) and carrying whips, dancing in a group to the music of drums and trumpets.  Unlike other masked dances of the district, such as the Danza de los Rubios, which is performed in pairs to the music a violin and guitar and tells a story of cowboys and their women, or the Danza de los Chareos, which tells the story of the battle of the Catholics and Moors for the reconquest of Spain, the Dance of the Devils tells no story and there are no specific dance steps.  Every dancer capers and jumps according to his own style.

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TITLE: Shishi Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Kantō
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Lion Dance (Shishi Mai) Mask (Gashira)
MAKER: Unknown maker in Gunma Prefecture
CEREMONY: Shishi Mai
AGE: 1940s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; lacquer

The shishi mask represents a mythical lion that protects and purifies the region in which it dances, driving away evil spirits, famine, and disease. The shishi mai (lion dance) is performed throughout Japan on festival days, especially during the lunar new year and Buddha’s birthday. Its appearance varies in different villages, with the lion style (like this mask) predominating, but other animals, such as a deer, cow, or mythical kirin, used in certain villages. The lion is accompanied by a retinue of drummers playing the taiko drum, as it walks through the town, dancing and bestowing blessings on locals. To drive away evil spirits, the shishi bites the head of villagers, which brings good luck and health.

The lion dance originated in China and was brought to Japan by Chinese travelers around the early 16th century (Muromachi Period). As in China, the shishi can be danced by a sole performer or a group. In western Japan, the gigaku-kei style of shishi mai is performed by two or more dancers bundled into a long costume. In the Kantō and Tōhoku, the dance style is known as furyu-kei, and is performed by a single dancer, who beats a drum tied around his waist.

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TITLE: Chwibari Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Korea
SUBREGION: Songpa-dong, Seoul
ETHNICITY: Korean
DESCRIPTION: Chwibari (Drunkard) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Seoul
CEREMONY: Songpa Sandae Nori Drama
FUNCTION: celebration; entertainment
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; varnish; polyester cloth

Songpa Sandae Nori is a traditional masked play from the Songpa-dong and Garak-dong neighborhoods of Seoul, South Korea. Traditionally, the play begins with a parade circling the Songpa Market area to announce the performance. The actors and musicians then perform a ritual (seomakgosa) to sanctify the play and honor the ancestors.

The drama itself consists of either seven (short version) or twelve (long version) acts dealing with class conflict and human weakness and nobility.  In the play, thirty-three different masks are used to represent different characters.

This mask represents a drunkard (chwibari) who performs the kaekki chum dance. In the Fourth Act of the drama, a very holy monk abandons his doctrines and seduces a shaman girl. Later, a drunkard appears and, challenging the monk, wins the girl for himself.  After she bears his baby, she abandons him, and chwibari undertakes to educate his child himself.

For more on Korean masquerade, see Jeon Kyung-wook, Korean Mask Dance Dramas: Their History and Structural Principles (Gyeonggi-do, Rep. of Korea: Youlhwadang Pub. 2005).

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TITLE: Hemba Soko Mutu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Hemba
DESCRIPTION: Soko Mutu (“Man’s Brother”) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: funeral
AGE: 2000-2005
MAIN MATERIAL: hardwood
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

The Hemba people of southeastern Congo are an agricultural group closely related to the Luba people. They live in ancestor-based clans headed by an elder (fuma mwalo) and organized by a secret society for men (Bukazanzi) and one for women (Bukibilo).

Among the east African peoples, masks rarely represent non-human primates, because the resemblances to human beings are considered unsettling. One important exception is the soko mutu (“man’s brother”) mask of the Hemba. The soko mutu represents a chimpanzee, and the raised eyebrows and wide, jagged mouth are intended to be fearsome.  The Hemba dance the soko mutu mask at funerals in order to symbolize the presence of death in the form of a chimpanzee spirit. Recently, some Hemba have begun calling the mask misi gwa so’o (chimpanzee spirit).

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TITLE: Monkey Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Honduras
SUBREGION: Unknown
ETHNICITY: Mestizo
DESCRIPTION: Monkey (Mono) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Unknown, probably Carnival
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: painted glass eyes; adhesive; oil-based paint

Honduras has a diverse population composed primarily of persons of mixed ancestry (mestizos), but also distinct ethnic groups such as creoles, the Garifuna people, and various indigenous nations. Very little is known about masquerade in Honduras except for among the Garifuna people, who mostly use wire-mesh masks in their dances. This monkey mask bears some resemblance to similar masks from Guatemala, which suggests it might originate in western Honduras, part of which formerly belonged to the Mayan empire that ruled over Guatemala. It was likely made for use in Carnival.

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TITLE: Payaso Abanderado
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Ecuador
SUBREGION: Cotopaxi
ETHNICITY: Mestizo
DESCRIPTION: Payaso Abanderado (Flag-Bearing Clown)
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fiesta de la Mama Negra
AGE: ca. 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: hardwood
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; 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, 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 is a payaso abanderado, marked with crucifixes (as is traditional) and carrying the flag of Ecuador.

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TITLE: Bété N’gre Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Bété
DESCRIPTION: N’gre Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Secret Society; Social Control; War Preparation
AGE: ca. 2000
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: iron tacks; kaolin; hardware; earth

The Bété people are closely related in ethnicity to their near neighbors, the We (Guere) and Dan peoples.  They live in the southwestern part of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).  The Bété were historically hunters and warriors, but today they are primarily agrarian.  The Bété religion aims to harmonize the life of the people with nature and the ancestor spirits who oversee the welfare of the tribe.  Most Bété maintain their animist belief system.  Although they pray to a creator god, they routinely seek help through sacrifice of animals and eggs to supernatural spirits, including ancestor spirits, nature spirits, and animal spirits.

Each Bété ritual focuses on the maintenance and care of good relations with the world of ancestors, so as to assure the protection of the lineages. The religious cults give rise to numerous mask performances accompanied by music. The apprenticeship of male adolescents in dancing societies revolves around mastering the arts of musical instruments, song, and masked dance.

Bété societies have three classes of masks: kuduo masks are the rarest and most sacred, because they mediate between the living and the dead. Many villages have no kuduo masks, and none possesses more than one.

The most common type of Bété mask is the n’gre, which historically was used in a ceremony for restoring peace after a war, purifying the village of evil spirits, and presiding over dispute settlement and the punishment of wrongdoers. It is thought the mask was also used in war preparation dances to give the wearer magical protection and to terrorize potential enemies. N’gre masks can be made for dancing by adults or for training by young boys. Unlike masks in many other African societies, n’gre masks are not strictly controlled in morphology.  Considerable creative variation occurs among different mask makers. The mask on display here is an adult n’gre.

For more on Bété masked dances, see Armistead P. Rood, “Bété Masked Dance: A View from Within,” 2(3) African Arts 37-43, 76 (1969).

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TITLE: Japanese Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Kyoto Prefecture
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Wood mask of unknown type
MAKER: Unknown workshop near Kyoto
CEREMONY: Unknown
AGE: 1985
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: string

This is a mask of an unknown type.  It may have been used in kyōgen, which is a form of short comedic play popular in small villages and used as an intermission between dramatic nōgaku plays.


To watch a short documentary about Japanese Nogaku (Noh drama and Kyogen plays), click above.

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TITLE: Gyōdō Bosatsu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Kyoto
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Mask of Bosatsu (Bodhisattva)
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Gyōdō Procession
AGE: early 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: hinoki (Japanese cypress) wood
OTHER MATERIALS: lacquer; paint

The gyōdō procession of Japan is a Buddhist ritual having several forms. Its oldest ceremony involves priests chanting sutras while walking in a procession around a temple building or idol. Gyōdō can also take the form of a masked funeral procession around a temple. The third type, which is the most commonly performed today, is a reenactment of the raigō, the legendary descent of the Amida Buddha from Nirvana to welcome the dead to the Western Paradise. In this ceremony, a priest wearing a mask of the Amida Buddha leads a procession of masked bosatsu.  Bosatsu is the Japanese term of Bodhisattva, a Buddhist saint who delays entering paradise to help mortals on Earth. Each bosatsu carries a heavenly musical instrument. The procession is still performed in some temples, such as Taima-dera in Nara or Sennyuji in Kyoto.

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TITLE: Tajikarao No-mikoto Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Miyazaki
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Tajikarao No-mikoto Mask
MAKER: Hiroaki Kudo (Amano Iwato, Takachiho, 1961- )
CEREMONY: Kagura
AGE: 2019
MAIN MATERIAL: hinoki (Japanese cypress) wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

Kagura is a form of music and dance from the Shinto religion. The Kagura involves maikata, or masked dancers with elaborate costumes and wigs, and hayashikata, or musicians playing the odaiko (large drum), kodaiko (small drum), chochigane (Japanese cymbals), and yokobue (a Japanese flute).

Kagura dance is not totally abstract, but rather is designed to tell a story, usually of Shinto origin.  The performance of a dance is intended not just to celebrate a holiday or entertain an audience, but as a religious duty to pray to Shinto gods for a good harvest or fish catch, or protection from disease or natural disaster. Kagura is now commonly performed at temples and in farming villages after the rice harvest to thank the gods for their bounty.

This mask represents the Shinto god Ameno Tajikarao No-mikoto, who created Mt. Togakushi by taking the solid rock door leading to a cave where the sun goddess Amaterasu had hid herself and throwing it toward Nagano.  Amaterasu had denied the world light by hiding in a cave after her godly sibling annoyed her, and Tajikarao, the god of strenght and sport, both restored the sun to the world and created a new mountain. The dance reenacts this heroic act.

For more on Japanese Kagura, see David Petersen, An Invitation to Kagura: Hidden Gem of the Traditional Japanese Performing Arts (2007).


Click above to watch a short documentary about the Kagura ceremony of Japan.

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