TITLE: Bwa Owl Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Burkina Faso
DESCRIPTION: Owl Spirit Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Initiation, Funeral, Agriculture
AGE: 1990s

Among the southern Bwa people, masks typically represent bush spirits that the wearer invokes for the benefit of his community, such as the hawk, crocodile or buffalo.  Bwa masks, in common with the neighboring Gurunsi and Nuna people, are characterized by highly geometric designs and dichromatic patterns of alternating dark wood and white kaolin clay.  Such masks are commissioned and owned by clans for bringing blessings to the village during funerals and the planting and harvesting of crops.  It may also be used during adult initiation rituals.  The mask is worn by a skilled dancer who secures it over his face by biting down on a rope on the mask’s back.  His body is concealed by a bushy costume of raffia fiber, traditionally dyed red or black, but now also seen in other dyes.  Accompanied by musicians playing flutes and drums and women singing songs, the masquerader dances rapidly, imitating the behavior of a spirit.  The use of wood masks is relatively recent among the Bwa, who traditionally used plant fibers and leaves instead.

This specific mask represents the owl, a bird considered to have great mystical power by the Bwa people.  The owl eyes appear on other animal spirit masks as well due to the owl’s exceptional importance to Bwa mythology.


TITLE: Vaquero Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Guatemala
ETHNICITY: Mayan (K’ich’e)
DESCRIPTION: Vaquero (Cowboy) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Baile del Torito
AGE: 1940s
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; glass eyes

The Baile del Torito  (Dance of the Little Bull), also called the Danza del Torito, is an annual ceremony in several cities of central and southern Guatemala, usually during a holiday in honor of the town’s patron saint. The dance is accompanied by music from a marimba band.

The dance dates back to the 17th century. It tells the story of a cattle ranch in which the caporal or mayordomo (foreman) prohibits the vaqueros (cowboys) like this one to interact with a bull. The cowboys get the foreman drunk and perform bullfights. Eventually, a bull kills the foreman and the dance ends.

The dance frequently begins before sunrise and lasts for up to 12 hours. It may be performed for many days, sometimes over a week. Depending on the size of the town, there may be only one or several bulls and caporales, and up to 50 vaqueros. In some towns, such as Chichicastenango, there is both a white caporal and a black one. The costume of the vaquero is brightly colored and elaborate, with a hat sporting thick clusters of dyed ostrich feathers. In some towns, the vaquero carries a cape and maraca (rattle). The players of each character are chosen through Mayan rituals and are blessed by an Ai-lj (Mayan priest) before the dance.

For more on Guatemalan masks, see Jim Pieper, Guatemala’s Masks and Drama (University of New Mexico Press, 2006).