TITLE: Diablo Cojuelo Mask and Costume
TYPE: face mask; costume; accessory
COUNTRY: Dominican Republic
ETHNICITY: Afro-Latino
DESCRIPTION: Diablo Cojuelo Carnival Mask and Costume
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Carnival; Dominican Independence Day
AGE: 2013
MAIN MATERIAL: fiberglass
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint; synthetic hair; metal accessories; glue; glitter; wire mesh; foam rubber padding; elastic straps; plastic rhinestones; plastic ornaments

During the carnival of the Dominican Republic, which actually falls on the Dominican Independence Day rather than the Catholic Mardi Gras, paraders don elaborate masks and costumes to represent devils, monsters, clowns, and other characters.  Different towns have different traditional masks.  In La Vega, a very large parade involving hundreds of masked marchers takes place every year, prominently featuring characters known as the diablo cojuelo, or “tormenting devil.”  These devils carry inflated bladders on a rope (formerly goat bladders, but today mostly rubber) that they use to strike audience members, preferably young women, on the buttocks.  The ritual thereby serves the dual function of providing a release for young male testosterone and reminding the audience of the torments awaiting in Hell.

Traditionally, such masks were made of paper maché, but in modern times they have been increasingly made of fiberglass molded around a sculpted model.  This allows crews of paraders to wear similar masks as a group without the need sculpt each mask individually.  Even so, tremendous work goes into the molding, preparation, painting, and adornment of each mask. Frequently the costumes require months of hand-stitching as well.


TITLE: Kusillo
TYPE: mask and costume
ETHNICITY: Aymara; Quechua
DESCRIPTION: Kusillo Mask and Costume
MAKER: Unknown maker in Puno
CEREMONY: Agriculture/Hunting; Carnival
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed wool felt
OTHER MATERIALS: yarn; cardboard; sequins; cotton batting

The kusillo is an Andean clown character that combines attributes of an insect, shepherd, and devil, although he is considered a benevolent trickster. It is one of the oldest masked characters in the region, predating the Spanish conquest. It is used in both Bolivia and Peru as a comic dancer, as well as a promoter of fertility during agricultural and hunting rites. Until the 1960s, the kusillos formed their own dance group, however, with their own music and group choreography. In modern times, he makes his appearance alone or in pairs during Carnival, along with the waka tokhoris or other groups, and sometimes at other festivities as well.

The upturned nose and appendages on the head are thought to be phallic symbols, expressing the kusillo‘s nature as a promoter of fertility. In addition, the kusillo tries to seduce girls in the crowd, reflecting both his fertility and trickster roles.  To facilitate this behavior, socially unacceptable otherwise, he wears white gloves and long pants to prevent recognition.


TITLE: Tsam Namsrai
TYPE: face mask; costume
COUNTRY: Mongolia
DESCRIPTION: Namsrai Mask and Costume
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ikh Khuree Tsam Dance
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; paint; lacquer; cloth; cotton wadding; tempera paint; lacquer

The Hindu-Buddhist Tsam dance crossed the Himalayas from India in the late medieval age and became a popular ritual in northern India and throughout Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet.  From Tibet, it reached Mongolia in the early nineteenth century and was soon adopted by Buddhist monasteries there.  The dance is performed on major religious holidays to invoke protective spirits and purify the region of evil influences.

This mask represents Namsrai, the god of wealth and patron of the poor and hungry.  He dances around a pot of treasure, carrying a horn that emits jewels and a magical wishing gem.


TITLE: Halloween Skeleton Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: United States of America
DESCRIPTION: Buckram Skull Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Halloween
AGE: 1940s
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed buckram

Halloween is one of the major secular festivals in the United States, celebrated on October 31st each year.  It originated in pre-Christian times, possibly among the ancient Celts, who practiced Samhain in late fall by wearing frightening costumes and lighting bonfires in mid-autumn to scare away ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1st as a day to honor all the saints collectively. The celebration prior to this All Saints Day became known as All Hallows’ Eve (hence the shortened name, All Hallowe’en, eventually elided to Halloween), and involved many of the same traditions practiced by the Celts.

Halloween formerly had many traditions that varied by region.  In modern and relatively homogenized practice, Halloween generally has three main components: costumed parties, “trick-or-treating,” and haunted houses.  Costumed parties are the modern descendant of social activities designed to honor the saints and create solidarity in the community. Children’s parties typically involved games with prizes, such as bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins and other relatively dry squash into frightening “jack-o-lanterns” with candles inside for illumination.  Adult parties commonly involve less innocent games and elaborate decorations to create a scary mood.

Trick-or-treating is the children’s practice of wearing scary costumes to extort candy and other sweets from neighbors. Like roaming goblins, the monsters visiting the house would demand a treat or threaten to play a nasty trick on the neighbor. The threat is of course a formality, as sharing candy with trick-or-treaters is considered a mandatory practice for friendly and community-spirited neighbors. In modern practice, many children have abandoned the tradition of wearing frightening costumes and have leaned toward fantasy characters such as superheroes, princesses, and fairies.

Haunted houses are a relatively modern innovation.  They may be designed and staffed by volunteers or for profit, and generally take the form of a decrepit mansion haunted by ghosts, mad scientists, monsters, the walking dead, etc. The idea is to inspire terror and wonder in a factually safe environment.

In addition, many Americans celebrate by watching horror movies (the release of which Hollywood times to coincide with the Halloween season), and in some regions, most notably Greenwich Village, Manhattan in New York and Salem, Massachusetts, major costumed parades are organized each year.  In many cities, “zombie walks” composed of masses of costumed zombies have been organized as well.

Popular masks and costumes include devils, zombies, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, mummies, witches, pirates, political figures, and characters from popular culture, such as Frankenstein’s monster. However, Halloween costumes can include almost anything, including inanimate objects and abstractions.  The choice is limited only by the imagination of the masquerader.  Masks and costumes depicting offensive racial stereotypes, popular prior to the 1980s, are no longer widely used.

This specific mask, representing a skull, was made from dyed buckram, moistened and dried over a form, then hand painted with details. Such mass-produced masks were popular among the middle class in the 1920s to 1950s, when they were replaced by vacuformed plastic.

For more on 20th century American Halloween costumes, see Phyllis Galembo, Dressed for Thrills: 100 Years of Halloween Costumes and Masquerade (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2002).

Click above to watch a documentary about Halloween in the United States.


TITLE: Wayana-Aparai Tamok
TYPE: face and body mask
SUBREGION: Guiana Highlands
ETHNICITY: Wayana; Aparai
DESCRIPTION: Tamok (Tamoko) Mask and Costume
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Pono Dance (Cumeeira)
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: split-cane basketry
OTHER MATERIALS: bark cloth; beeswax; kaolin clay; pigment; palm-frond fibers

The Wayana and Aparai are two distinct peoples that live in close proximity in northeastern Brazil, on the border of Suriname and French Guiana. Due to their small numbers (less than 3000 persons between the two groups), they have joined to a degree and have converged in their cultural rituals. Among these is the Pono dance, sometimes called in Portuguese the Cumeeira ceremony, a celebration of the dedication of a new community roundhouse (the cumeeira being the highest point of the roof). Participants in this celebration must refrain from alcohol and maintain purity. Only then are they allowed to wear the tamok (or tamoko) mask and suit.

Tamok represents an evil spirit, a powerful man-eating forest monster associated with illness and death. The Pono dance placates Tamok and purifies the village.  It is performed with a large, two-handed whip to make loud cracking sounds.  The Tamok mask’s geometrical pattern are reminiscent of the face painting applied to Wayana girls.