TITLE: Tastoan
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Zacatecas
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Tastoan Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fiesta de Santiago el Apostól
AGE: 1920s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil; horse hair; hardware

In parts of Jalisco and Zacatecas, the holiday in honor of Santiago el Apostól (St. James the Apostle) is held every 25th of July. Celebrants carry spears and dress in long pants, leather chaps, and boots, with demonic masks made of wood (Zacatecas) or molded leather (Jalisco) covered with a montera (headdress) of goat hair, horse hair, or plant fiber. The festival commemorates a battle between the indigenous warriors of the area and conquistadors. The appearance of the tastoanes, who represent indigenous warriors, conveys their ferocity through sharp teeth, large noses, and snakes, lizards, scorpions and spiders for decorations.

During the celebration, tastoanes and either three kings wearing ceramic masks or three Aztec priestesses (one representing the Tonaltec queen Tzapotzintli, also known as Tzuapili oor Cihualpilli) carry an image of St. James along a parade route and dance to music carrying swords or whips, after which they make defiant speeches and engage in a mock battle (jugada) with a participant carrying a whip who represents St. James.  At the end of the battle, all the tastoanes die and St. James is victorious. In the past, all tastoanes were male, but recently women have begun to participate as well.  In some towns, an organization such as a Cofradía de Santo Santiago (Fraternity of St. James) organizes the event.

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TITLE: Wayang Wong Ravana
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Bali
ETHNICITY: Balinese
DESCRIPTION: Ravana Mask
MAKER: Ida Made Sutiarka, Singapadu (1974- )
CEREMONY: Wayang Wong
AGE: 2018
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: leather; cotton; oil-based paint; gilded silver jewelry; rhinestones; mirrors; gold leaf; string

The Wayang Wong dance drama retells parts of the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These epics revolve around the god Rama and his battle with the demon king Ravana, who has abducted Rama’s wife, Sita. In the end, Rama retrieves her with the help of the wily monkey god, Hanuman.  This mask represents the antihero Ravana, whose nature is somewhat ambiguous in Hindu lore. On one hand, he is generally thought to have been a capable king. On the other, his evil deeds doom him to retribution at the hands of Rama and his allies.

For more on Balinese masks, see Judy Slattum, Masks of Bali: Spirits of an Ancient Drama (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992).


Video of a Wayang Wong performance in Bali, Indonesia.

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TITLE: Ekoi Ekpo Crest Mask
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ekoi
DESCRIPTION: Ekpo Society Ancestor Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ikem Ceremony
FUNCTION: Secret Society; Funeral
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIALS: wood; antelope leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; kaolin clay; wicker

The Ekoi people, also known as the Ejagham, inhabit the extreme southeastern region of Nigeria and parts of Cameroon. They are a hunting and farming people who live in scattered communities. Each community has a Ngbe or Ekpo (Leopard) Society that helps coordinate political and social events.

Most Ekoi masks take the form of a helmet or crest that sits atop the head. Unlike the masks of other African peoples, Ekoi masks are covered in antelope leather. In the distant past, the skin of killed slaves was used, but now antelope leather is common. Ancestor spirit masks such as these are used by the Ekpo Society, are worn at funerals and other secret society rituals. In the rituals, ceremonial plays known as Ikem (“sharing one heart and mind”) are performed to venerate the ancestors.  The mask is fixed to the dancer’s head and adorned with raffia fiber to hide the dancer’s face and body.

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TITLE: Chokwe Mwana Pwo
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Congo, Dem. Rep. of
ETHNICITY: Chokwe
DESCRIPTION: Mwana Pwo (Young Woman) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. late 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: cotton netting

The populous Chokwe people of Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambia are known as some of the most skilled wood carvers in Africa. They resisted colonization far longer than most peoples of the region, despite repeated incursions by the Portuguese and other Europeans.

The Chokwe use masks in many contexts. The mwana pwo (young woman) mask invokes the spirit of a female ancestor in her most beautiful youth. The dark skin, decorative forehead and cheek scars, high forehead, narrow nose, and filed teeth represent the idealized Chokwe female. The mwana pwo is mostly danced for purposes for entertainment at festivals, but it is thought to increase the fertility of the women who attend.

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TITLE: Carnival Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Oaxaca
ETHNICITY: Mixtec
DESCRIPTION: Male Negro Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Silacayoapam
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: 1999
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; glass eyes; plaster; animal hair eyelashes

Carnival is celebrated throughout the Catholic world with parades and other festivities, often including masqueraders. It is the celebration before the fasting season of Lent. In Oaxaca, as in many other parts of Mexico, Carnival is celebrated with masked dances and parades.

Traditionally, masks were not used in the Carnival of Silacayoapam, a small town in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. Dancers would instead paint their bodies and faces black with charcoal or ash and wear their most dilapidated clothing in imitation of the “negros” or mulattoes brought to coastal Oaxaca by the Spanish colonists. All dancers were adult males (though some dressed as women) and would dance to music of a violin and other local instruments. Some forty years ago, the negros began wearing simple masks made from fibers from the agave plant. They developed a variety of dances, such as the Danza de los Negros (Dance of the Black People), Danza del Panadero (Dance of the Baker), and Danza de los Apaches (Dance of the Indians). All but the first of these have disappeared.

In modern times, both the costumes and the music have become more sophisticated. Today, masqueraders wear assiduously carved and elaborately painted masks and fancy costumes that they borrow from a community storage room. The bands are larger, with a greater diversity of instruments including trumpets and saxophones, and they play a kind of music known as chilena mixteca.

Included in the festivities are games and other activities. Some masked characters carry dried chile peppers and, if the town children taunt them, they chase them through the streets. If the masqueraders catch a child, they stuff a chile in his mouth. Others characters throw talcum powder or small fruits at the crowd. The masked men traditionally buy perfume for the women they are courting, using the mask to heighten the mystery.

The negros today are rarely black, but their name has not changed. This mask represents one. It was used in Silacayoapam from 1999 until 2016.

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TITLE: Carnival Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Oaxaca
ETHNICITY: Mixtec
DESCRIPTION: Female Negro Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Silacayoapam
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: 2005
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; glass eyes; plaster; animal hair eyelashes; foam rubber

Carnival is celebrated throughout the Catholic world with parades and other festivities, often including masqueraders. It is the celebration before the fasting season of Lent. In Oaxaca, as in many other parts of Mexico, Carnival is celebrated with masked dances and parades.

Traditionally, masks were not used in the Carnival of Silacayoapam, a small town in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. Dancers would instead paint their bodies and faces black with charcoal or ash and wear their most dilapidated clothing in imitation of the “negros” or mulattoes brought to coastal Oaxaca by the Spanish colonists. All dancers were adult males (though some dressed as women) and would dance to music of a violin and other local instruments. Some forty years ago, the negros began wearing simple masks made from fibers from the agave plant. They developed a variety of dances, such as the Danza de los Negros (Dance of the Black People), Danza del Panadero (Dance of the Baker), and Danza de los Apaches (Dance of the Indians). All but the first of these have disappeared.

In modern times, both the costumes and the music have become more sophisticated. Today, masqueraders wear assiduously carved and elaborately painted masks and fancy costumes that they borrow from a community storage room. The bands are larger, with a greater diversity of instruments including trumpets and saxophones, and they play a kind of music known as chilena mixteca.

Included in the festivities are games and other activities. Some masked characters carry dried chile peppers and, if the town children taunt them, they chase them through the streets. If the masqueraders catch a child, they stuff a chile in his mouth. Others characters throw talcum powder or small fruits at the crowd. The masked men traditionally buy perfume for the women they are courting, using the mask to heighten the mystery.

The negros today are rarely black, but their name has not changed. This mask represents a negra, or female black. It was used in Silacayoapam from 2005 until 2016.

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TITLE: Tapuanu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Micronesia, Federated States of
SUBREGION: Nomoi (Mortlock) Islands
ETHNICITY: Micronesian
DESCRIPTION: Tapuanu Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Soutapuana Society
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Protection; Secret Society
AGE: 1940s
MAIN MATERIAL: palm wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigments (lime and coal)

The Micronesian islands are inhabited by an ethnic mix of Melanesian, Polynesian and Filipino peoples. The Nomoi Islands (formerly known as the Mortlock Islands) are a group of three large atolls in the Chuuk region of Micronesia: Satawan, Etal, and Lukunor. The Micronesian people have only a single kind of face mask, known as tapuanu, and created by the Soutapuana Society. The mask represents a protective ancestor spirit, and is danced in beachside and sacred house ceremonies to ward off typhoons that might harm the breadfruit tree, an important source of food for the inhabitants of the islands.  tapuanu mask danced by the Soutapuana Secret Society of the Nomoi Islands during ceremonies to protect the village and its breadfruit trees from natural disasters. The tapuanu can also frighten away ghosts that steal food.

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TITLE: Yup’ik Inua Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: Alaska
ETHNICITY: Yup’ik
DESCRIPTION: Inua Owl Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Healing; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; snow goose feathers

The Yup’ik (or Yupik) people inhabit western and southern Alaska and the Chukotka region of Russia. They currently number some 24,000 individuals who survive in some of the harshest climates of the world. The Yup’ik survived by hunting caribou, rabbits, and marine mammals, especially walrus, seals, and whales. Their traditional religious beliefs are shamanistic, based on the belief that certain animals and birds are sacred. Their masked rituals are oriented toward ensuring a successful hunting and giving thanks for past hunts, storytelling, and healing ceremonies by shamans (angalkuq).

The masks are typically made of wood, decorated with feathers, and painted with only a few colors. They could be carved by men or women under the direction of a shaman. Masks were formerly destroyed after use. Christian proselytization has suppressed the use of masquerade in Yup’ik cultures today, but it continues in some segments of the population.

This mask depicts an inua, in the form of an owl. An inua is one of the natural spirits that inhabit humans or animals interchangeably. Appeasing the inua by showing respect and gratitude was considered essential to successful hunts.

For more on Yup’ik masking traditions, see the excellent monograph by Anne Fienup-Riordan, The Living Tradition of Yup’ik Masks (University of Washington Press 1996).

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TITLE: Macho Mask (child’s)
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Nicaragua
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Macho (Mule) Mask for Child
MAKER: Unknown maker in Diriamba
CEREMONY: El Güegüense Dance Drama
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint

El Güegüense is a culturally important Nicaraguan play originating in seventeenth century Diriamba and written by an anonymous author. It was originally called Baile del Güegüence, ó Macho-Raton, translated literally as “The Dance of the Old Man, or Male Mouse.” The play, which is considered the first classic of Nicaraguan literature, ridicules greed, moral corruption, and the troubled relations between Spanish colonists, mestizos, and indigenous people. It is performed annually in Diriamba during the Feast of St. Sebastian, from January 17th to 27th.

As performed today, most characters wear masks and dance to the music of the native flute (pito), violin, guitar, and drum during the performance.  Among the characters are several machos, or mules, sometimes numbering twelve or more.  This mask represents one of the smaller mules and would have been played by a child.

For more on the Güegüense, see The Güegüence; A Comedy Ballet in the Nahua-Spanish Dialect of Nicaragua (Daniel G. Briton ed., 1883).

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TITLE: Topeng Patih Manis
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Bali
ETHNICITY: Balinese
DESCRIPTION: Patih Manis (Prime Minister) Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Tegallalah
CEREMONY: Topeng Dance Drama
AGE: 1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: goat hair and leather; paint; string; rubber band

The Topeng dance drama is an important traditional entertainment and education on the island of Bali, Indonesia. Its origin can be traced to the oral history of the Balinese people and venerable palm-leaf written histories, influenced by Hinduism imported from India. The dance may have originated as early as 840 CE. The stories depicted in this drama, called Babad Dalem, tell a political history of the islands of Bali and Java as written by the court poets of the regional kings.

This specific mask represents a character known as Patih Manis, who is the prime minister in the royal court. He has a mild temperament, which is reflected in his facial expression.

For more on Balinese masks, see Judy Slattum, Masks of Bali: Spirits of an Ancient Drama (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992).

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