TITLE: Huniyam Yakka Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Sri Lanka
ETHNICITY: Sinhalese
DESCRIPTION: Huniyam Yakka (Prince of Black Sorcery) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kolam Natima Dance Drama
AGE: 1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: kadura (Strychox nux vomica) wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; dyed cotton cloth

The masked dance of Sri Lanka developed from shamanic healing and purification rituals, and  split along two lines.  The first, Yakun Natima, is the healing dance performed by a shaman.  Each demon (yakku) represents a specific disease or ailment, and to invoke the demon, the shaman wears a mask depicting the symptoms or symbols of the disease. When performing as a group, a character known as Kola Sanni Yakka, who is a kind of amalgamation of all diseases, presides over the demons.

The second line, Kolam Natima is a storytelling dance drama involving 40 masked characters of very diverse types. The story originates in a myth of a pregnant Sinhalese queen who develops a craving to see masked dances. She begs her husband, the king, to arrange it, but he knows of no such dances. At his request, the god Sekkria, one of the four guardian gods, carves the masks and teaches the people how to perform the dance. They perform for the royal audience, and the baby is consequently born strong and healthy. The stories told with the masks are not a single cohesive narrative, but a series of stories that merge Sinhalese folk traditions with Buddhist Jataka stories, which tell of the former lives of the Buddha.

A Kolam Natima performance begins with ritual addresses to gods and the Buddha. What follows is a prologue showing brief stock, mostly comical, scenes from traditional Sri Lankan society.  Finally, the king and the queen in very large masks enter with their retinue, whence they watch the dance.  The performance ends with the dance, typically involving Gara demons, Nagas (snake demons) and the Garuda (a Naga-eating god-bird) who were eventually reconciled by the Buddha. The performance is intended to purify the village and to spread prosperity.

This mask probably represents Huniyam Yakka, the prince of black sorcery, from the Kolam Natima.

For more on the masks of Sri Lanka, see Alain Loviconi, Masks and Exorcisms of Sri Lanka (Paris: Éditions Errance, 1981).

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TITLE: Tiv Mami Wata Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Tiv
DESCRIPTION: Tiv Mami Wata Face Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kwagh-hir
FUNCTION: Entertainment
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Tiv of Nigeria and Cameroon are a predominantly agrarian people that began adopting and transforming the masquerading traditions of neighboring peoples (including the Igbo and Yoruba) in the 1960s.  They now have an established masking tradition known as kwagh-hir (“wonderful thing”). Kwagh-hir is a form of communal entertainment in which masked characters portraying animals, people or supernatural spirits are used to tell stories.  It takes form either through wooden puppets or masked men.  Some masks are full body suits; others cover only the head or face.

Kwagh-hir are performed during the dry season in villages with sufficient resources.  Any man may take part under the instruction of a director (torkwagh-hir). The performance is announced by the blowing of a ram’s horn.  It is performed only at night, with women singing songs specifically for the masquerade. The first masked figure appears as a huge, raffia-covered animal that spins and dances, sweeping the stage area and raising a dust cloud. Masked spirits then follow individually.  One important spirit is the Mami Wata, represented here.  Mami Wata 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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TITLE: Lewa Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: Schouten Islands
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Austronesian)
DESCRIPTION: Lewa Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker on Vokeo Island
CEREMONY:
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigments

The Schouten Islands are a group of six small volcanic islands in the province of East Sepik in Papua New Guinea.  Male initiation ceremonies celebrate the passage of boys to adulthood and teach them the obligations and skills they will need to survive. This type of mask is know as a lewa and represents a male masked spirit. The carving from the ears to the nose likely represents facial decoration with bone or shell, suggesting the mask was linked to the son of a tribal elder or chief. The mask has also been decorated with a ochre and white clay. The lewa spirit enforces prohibitions against eating certain crops that enable ritual leaders to stockpile food to be used later during important ceremonies and festivals.

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TITLE: Kwakwaka’wakw Rabbit
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: Canada
SUBREGION: British Columbia
ETHNICITY: Kwakwaka’wakw
DESCRIPTION: Rabbit Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Potlatch
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: red cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; beads; plant fiber

A potlatch is a culturally important ceremony among the coastal indigenous Americans of British Columbia, held on many different occasions.  It could be held to celebrate a family member’s change in social status, such as a marriage, birth, death, or initiation into adulthood.  It could also be held to restore a person’s prestige after a loss in dignity, such as falling out of a canoe or making a hunting error.  The ceremony could last for one day or as long as three weeks, depending on the occasion and the wealth of the giver.

A potlatch typically included three important components: a feast, entertainment, and gift giving to the guests.  The entertainment consisted of singing and masked dancing.  The more lavish the gifts, feast, and entertainment, the greater the prestige gained by the giver.  Because masks and costumes were expensive and time-consuming to make, larger and more elaborate masks raised the prestige of the potlatch giver.  The masks themselves represented totemic animals such as the killer whale, raven, beaver, or shark, or else mythical figures and beasts, such as the KomokwaDzunukwa or Bukwus. This mask represents the rabbit, a totemic animal important to the Kwakwaka’wakw people as a source of fur. As a cultural character, the rabbit was typically represented as a form of clown.

For more on masks of the coastal peoples of western Canada, see Peter MacNair, Robert Joseph & Bruce Grenville, Down from the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1998) and Edward Malin, A World of Faces: Masks of the Northwest Coast Indians (Portland: Timber Press, 1978).

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TITLE: Makonde Lipiko Mask
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Tanzania
ETHNICITY: Makonde
DESCRIPTION: Lipiko
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Mapiko
USE: Adult Initiation; Funeral; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigment

The Makonde people inhabit the bordering region of Tanzania and Mozambique. They are a matrilineal society divided into clans governed by a chief and council. The Makonde are known as some of the most expert mask carvers in Africa, with two kinds of masks prevalent in their society.  This mask, known as a lipiko, is a helmet mask used primarily for the mapiko dance held at adult initiation rituals for boys and girls and at funerals. The masquerader channels the spirit of dead ancestors through the mask.  During initiation, boys and girls are both taught how to make the masks and perform them.  Women perform their initiation away from the males, who never see the masquerade.

This mask came from the Tanzania region of Makonde territory and was danced in the 1960s or 1970s.

For more on the Makonde mapiko ceremony, see Paolo Israel, In Step with the Times: Mapiko Masquerades of Mozambique (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press 2014).

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TITLE: Moor (Life and Death) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Moro (Moor) Mask in the form of a Half Woman and Half Calavera (Skull)
MAKER: Lino Mora Rivera, Naolinco (1956- )
CEREMONY: Fiesta de San Mateo (Danza de los Pilatos)
AGE: 2018
MAIN MATERIAL: equimite wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; synthetic eyelashes; glass eye; adhesive; lacquer; string

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 half woman (mujer), half skeleton (calavera), symbolizing the cycle of life and death. It was made by the master craftsman, Lino Mora Rivera.

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 (Calavera-Viking) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Moro (Moor) Mask in the form of a Viking Calavera (Skull)
MAKER: Lino Mora Rivera, Naolinco (1956- )
CEREMONY: Fiesta de San Mateo (Danza de los Pilatos)
AGE: 2017
MAIN MATERIAL: equimite wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; lacquer; string

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 skeleton (calavera), with a beard characterized by the carver as a Viking. It was made by the master craftsman, Lino Mora Rivera.

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 (Calavera) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Moro (Moor) Mask in the form of a Calavera con Serpientes (Skull with Snakes)
MAKER: Rafael Mesa Oliva (1978- , Naolinco de Victoria)
CEREMONY: Fiesta de San Mateo (Danza de los Pilatos)
AGE: 2018
MAIN MATERIAL: equimite wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; string

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 bearded skeleton (calavera). 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: Juan Negro
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Hidalgo
ETHNICITY: Otomí
DESCRIPTION: Juan Negro (Cuanegro) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Juan Negro Dance Drama
AGE: ca. 2000s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

The Juan Negro (Black John) Dance Drama of the Hidalgo region tells a comic tale of a struggle between a Spanish colonist and his foreman over the love of a girl. It is sometimes spelled Juanegro or Cuanegro. The Spaniard, Juan Blanco (White John), wears a light-colored mask because of his life of shady ease, while the Juan Negro (a peasant) has dark skin from working in the sun.  In the end, Juan Blanco wins the girl, denoting the injustice the unequal wealth and power perpetuates.  For mysterious reasons, the girl is played by an unmasked man in a dress. The dance is also performed in adjoining parts of Veracruz.

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TITLE: Cojó Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Tenosique, Tabasco
ETHNICITY: Chontal
DESCRIPTION: Cojó Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Tenosique
CEREMONY: Danza Correr del Pochó
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

During Carnival and the saint’s holiday of Tenosique, local Chontal people perform La Danza Correr del Pochó, or less formally, El Pochó.  El Pochó is a pre-Christian god that the missionaries tried to characterize as evil.  As a result, modern festivals end in the defeat and burning of Pochó. The Danze del Pochó has three main characters: cojóes, the pochoveras, and the tigres.  They dance to the music of native flutes and drums.

Cojóes are men who represent the first Chontal people, created from the pulp of maize. The cojó masks, such as this one, are always made of wood and have a distinct streamlined style with a sloping nose. The reason for the mask is said to be that Pochó immediately considered human beings his enemy, and so the Chontals wore masks so that Pochó could not recognize them. The costume consists of a coarse coat, a cloth mantle, a skirt of leaves, and a straw hat decorated with large leaves, flowers, and chewing gum boxes. They carry a long rattle shaped like a thick stick filled with changala seeds.

The pochoveras are priestesses of the god Pochó and keep a fire burning on his alter. Pochoveras also wear a hat with leaves and flowers.

The tigres, called balandes in the Chontal language, are masked characters who paint their body with white clay and black spots made of coal to simulate the jaguar pelt. They may also wear an animal skin. The role of the tigres is to attack the cojóes with the help of the pochoveras, on behalf of Pochó. However, the cojóes inevitably win, defeating the tigres and extinguishing Pochó’s fire.

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