TITLE: Rey Moro Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Ecuador
SUBREGION: Latacunga
ETHNICITY: Mestizo
DESCRIPTION: Rey Moro (King Moor) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fiesta de la Mama Negra
AGE: 1920s-1930s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment

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), shamans (huacos), and miscellaneous other characters.  This mask, dating back to the early twentieth century, most probably represents the Rey Moro, judging by the Islamic star on his forehead.

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TITLE: Yangju Byeolsandae Nojang Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Korea
SUBREGION: Yangju, Gyeonggi Province
ETHNICITY: Korean
DESCRIPTION: Nojang (Buddhist Monk) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Byeolsandae Drama
FUNCTION: celebration; entertainment
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: cotton hood; paper; paint

Sandae noli is the type of masked drama in Gyeonggi Province and the Seoul region.  The drama is accompanied by music played on a small samhyeon yukgak ensemble, consisting of three aerophones, one chordophone, and two membranophones. The full performance involves dozens of characters in different masks.

This mask represents an old, corrupt Buddhist monk, or nojang, who has a fondness for liquor and women. The black color of the mask is meant to convey the monk’s advanced age.

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: Maringuilla Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Michoacán
ETHNICITY: Purépecha
DESCRIPTION: Maringuilla (Little Mary) Mask
MAKER: Manuel Horta Ramos, Tocuaro
CEREMONY: Pastorela
AGE: 2015
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; maque; plastic eyelashes; metal and enamel earrings

The Pastorela is the ceremonial dance drama of Michoacán state in Mexico. Pastorelas, performed in February during the Shrovetide season, are primarily religious in significance. The main characters of the Dance of the Shepherds are the Devil, the Archangel Michael, shepherds, and a hermit (who paradoxically represents the ancestors of the performers).  The drama revolves around the attempts of Lucifer and his demon minions to steal the baby Jesus.  Other dramas performed on the occasion include the Dance of the Negritos (dance of the little blacks), relating to the importation of African slaves into Mexico by the Spaniards, and which includes an army of elegantly dressed “little Maries” (Maringuillas), like the one represented by this mask, and feos, or ugly clowns.

This mask was carved by Manuel Horta, one of a famous extended family of carvers from the town of Tocuaro, in 2015.

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TITLE: Kokushiki-Jo
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Kyodomen Kokushiki-Jo Mask
MAKER: Habu Mitsuma
CEREMONY: Okina (翁)
FUNCTION: agriculture; purification; spirit invocation
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: animal hair; pigment

The Okina is an ancient Japanese dance ritual that uses forms of mask known as kokushiki-jo and hakushiki-jo. These are among the oldest masked characters in Japanese ceremonies, originating as folk masks (kyodomen) used in ancient sarugaku (“monkey music”) theatre (circa 1000-1300 CE) and migrating to the formal stage for use between noh plays. The kokushiki-jo and haukshiki-jo both represent old men with divine qualities, but with slight differences in appearance. Unlike noh theatre, the Okina dance is mute, and it is performed by a kyōgen performer rather than a noh actor.

The Okina plays an important ceremonial role in the Shinto religion, because the kokushiki-jo performs the Sanbasō, a prayer-dance celebrating the emperor’s peaceful rain and seeking blessings for a bountiful harvest.


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

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TITLE: Lombok Topeng Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Lombok
ETHNICITY: Sasak
DESCRIPTION: Sasak Topeng Mask
MAKER: Unknown carver, collected in Mataram
CEREMONY: Topeng Dance Drama
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: candelnut wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Topeng dance drama centers around the political history of the region and are called Babad Dalem (Chronicles of the Kings). Although Topeng is best known on the islands of Java and Bali, it has also made its way to the Sasak people of Lombok. Topeng masks from this region exhibit characteristics of both Javanese and Balinese styles, with elements unique to the Sasak as well. The character represented by this mask is unclear, but the mask is well used.

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TITLE: Dogon Satimbe Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Mali
ETHNICITY: Dogon
DESCRIPTION: Satimbe Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Dama
FUNCTION: Funeral
AGE: 1940s
MAIN MATERIAL: ebony wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; glass beads; cowrie shells; hair; cotton string; 1919 British West Africa penny; bronze bell

The Dogon people of Mali use a tremendous variety of masks, most of which center around funeral rites. Traditionally, the Awa Society controlled the use of masks. This mask represents Yayemme, the first woman to discover the mystical use of masks, and Yasigi, a female character from Dogon creation myths who served beer at the first Dogon sigi celebration.  It is used in funerals to usher the spirit of the dead from the village back to its proper place in the bush.

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TITLE: Austrian Perchtenmaske
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Austria
ETHNICITY: Tyrolean
DESCRIPTION: Perchtenmaske (Krampus Mask)
MAKER: Josef “Sepp” Seidl, Sankt Veit im Pongau (1975- )
CEREMONY: Perchtenlauf
AGE: 2009
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: goat horns; mesh; glass eyes; paint; horse hair

Perchtenlauf is a Tyrolean winter festival equivalent to the old Norse Yule.  In many parts of Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy, in mid-December the town organizes a parade of Perchten, or demons who represent evil spirits (known in Germany as Krampus).  The Perchten wear frightening horned masks with sharp teeth and long, lolling tongues, typically in a suit of goat skin with loud cowbells attached to their belt.  Their function is to accompanying St. Nicholas, who reward good children with treats and presents, while the Perchten punish bad children by beating them with birch switches or throwing them into wicker baskets on their backs to carry down to Hell for punishment.

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TITLE: Female Huehue
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Puebla
ETHNICITY: Nahua & Mixtec
DESCRIPTION: Female Huehue Mask
MAKER: Magno León, Huetlalpan (1914-1977)
CEREMONY: Danza de los Huehues
AGE: ca. 1950
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; elastic bands

Huehue means village elder.  The Danza de los Huehues predates the Spanish conquest and is believed to have begun around Day of the Dead, when village elders helped the widows to find shelter after their husbands died in battle.  Some believe the dance originated in Tlaxcala or Huasteca and spread to Puebla.  The Devil is a character added by way of Catholic influence; he is charged with harassing the dancers and audience during the performance.

Most huehue masks are male, but some female huehues such as this one are danced as well.  The dance is typically held in late June, in honor of a patron saint.

This mask was carved by a master sculptor and used for many years. One former owner so prized the mask that he painted his initials, J.L.L., on the inside.

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: Kumu Nsembu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Kumu
DESCRIPTION: Nsembu Nkunda Society Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Secret Society; Adult Initiation; Divination
AGE: 1980s-1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin; pigment

The Kumu or Komo people inhabit the Ituri rainforests in the eastern part of Congo.  They are agriculturalists with animist traditions.

A culturally important ritual for the Kumu people is the circumcision of boys as they enter adulthood.  The nsembu mask is used exclusively by members of the Nkunda Secret Society for the purposes of adult initiation. They also use the mask for divination under the effects of hallucinogens.  The mask itself represents the diviner’s spirit.  Kumu masks are somewhat rare, but the known examples tend to have wide open eyes and mouths, frequently with sharp teeth.

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TITLE: Ogoni Mami Wata Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ogoni
DESCRIPTION: Ogoni Mami Wata Face Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Funeral
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Ogoni people have managed to maintain much of their precolonial culture, including their masquerading traditions.

Masks are used for funeral celebrations and to celebrate the harvesting of yams.  The Mami Wata represented here is a water goddess important to many northwest African cultures. She is sometimes represented by a mermaid but is nearly always surrounded by snakes, as here.

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