TITLE: Duck Character Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Cloth Duck Character Parade Mask
CATALOG ID: NAUS551
MAKER: unknown
FUNCTION: entertainment
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed synthetic cloth and fur
OTHER MATERIALS: wire mesh; adhesive; foam rubber; stitching

This mask consists of a cloth helmet used for a parade or event in southern California, for the purpose of entertainment. It represents a cartoonish duck and was used for several years, possibly at children’s parties.

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TITLE: Nuo Kaishan Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Guangxi
ETHNICITY: Maonan
DESCRIPTION: Nuo mask of Kaishan
CATALOG ID: ASCN012
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Nuoxi
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Celebration; Entertainment; Purification
AGE: 1940s
MAIN MATERIAL: poplar or willow wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Nuoxi of China may be traced back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), possibly much earlier (some believe the Shang and Zhou Dynasties) and was popular in large parts of the empire, but especially along the southern borders, where it was a form of entertainment for the imperial troops. It evolved from a sacrificial rite performed by shamans into a more dramatic form, with both Buddhist and Taoist overtones. Nuo opera is based on historical stories and stories based on the Taoist religion and all roles (including female roles) are performed by men. It evolved into a popular form of entertainment and was eventually accompanied by an orchestra of Chinese instruments.  The Nuo opera never quite lost its shamanic connection, however, and also was used to exorcise evil spirits at the home of sick persons. The sacred connection is evident from a religious ceremony that always precedes the opening of a Nuo opera.  In addition, a wooden statue representing the originator of the opera is present at every performance, and nobody except the opera troupe may touch props used in the performance. Although the Chinese Communist Party attempted to suppress Nuo performances and eliminated it from most of the country, the opera continues to be performed in three southern provinces of China today (Guangxi, Guizhou, and Jiangxi).

The Maonan people form a relatively small ethnic group in China, confined largely to Guangxi province, and it is one of several ethnic groups that adopted Nuo opera deeply into its culture. This mask represents the god Kaishan, “the mountain opener,” who leads the ceremony for the clearing or planting of a new field. His fierce face is supposed to scare away evil spirits.

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TITLE: Moor Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Guerrero
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Moro (Moor) Mask
CATALOG ID: LAMX173
MAKER: Unknown maker in Atlihaca
CEREMONY: Danza de los Moros y Cristianos
AGE: ca. 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: deer leather and fur; adhesive; paint; jute cord

The Danza de los Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians), also known as the Danza de la Conquista, is an important celebration in many parts of Mexico. 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, Veracruz, and parts of Guerrero. Characters vary depending on locality, although they always include “Christians” or “Spaniards” and Moors. This mask represents a Moor.

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TITLE: Conquista Tecu Uman
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: El Quiché
ETHNICITY: Mayan (K’iché)
DESCRIPTION: Tecu Uman Mask
CATALOG #: LAGT011
MAKER: Unknown maker in Chichicastenango with initials J.C.
CEREMONY: Danza de la Conquista
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; German glass doll eyes; wood putty

The Danza de la Conquista (Dance of the Conquest), also sometimes called the Baile de Cortès (Dance of Hernán Cortez), is a ceremony performed in many parts of Guatemala, as well as Mexico and other parts of Central and South America. In Guatemala, the dance is supposed to tell the story of the conquest of the Mayan Empires, led by Tecu Uman, by the Spanish conquistadors, led by Pedro de Alvarado or Hernán Cortez. The dance involves a complex set of speeches and songs and, in many places, takes several hours to complete, often in two or three separate acts. In San Cristóbal Totonicapán, the Spaniards are led by Alvarado and come with a disciplined army. They are aided by two female characters, one of whom represents Malinche (called Doña Marina by the Spaniards), an Aztec princess who served as Cortez’s translator. The Mayan war council is advised by a shaman known as the ajitz, who helps but whose prophecies of Spanish conquest are ignored. In addition, an Aztec renegade assists the Mayans. After many speeches, discussions, songs, and melee battles, the Mayans are ultimately conquered and converted to Catholicism.

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

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TITLE: Setsubun Oni Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Okayama Prefecture
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Paper maché oni mask for Mamemaki
CATALOG ID: ASJP001
MAKER: Unknown maker in Okayama Prefecture
CEREMONY: Mamemaki (Setsubun)
AGE: 2018
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: plant fiber; dyed cotton cloth; dyed cotton rope; steel bells; cotton wadding; stitching; nylon bands; steel hardware; paint

Setsubun is the day before spring begins in the traditional Japanese calendar, now usually held February 2, 3 or 4. It is a holiday that involves purification rituals, the foremost among which is mamemaki, or bean-scattering. To celebrate, households throw fukumame (roasted soybeans) out of their front door or at a member of the family wearing an oni (demon) mask such as this one. As they do, they shout “Oni-wa soto! Fuku-wa uchi!” (“Demons out! Good fortune in!”) and slam their front door. In addition, they traditionally eat the fukumame, one for each year of their age plus an additional one for good luck. In modern times, these practices are often performed at a Shinto temple or shrine.

This mask was worn once in 2019 ritual in Okayama.

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TITLE: Senufo Kponyugo
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
ETHNICITY: Senufo
DESCRIPTION: Kponyugo Mask
CATALOG #: AFCI026
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Funeral; Protection/Purification; Secret Society; Social Control
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: n/a

The Senufo people and reside primarily in Côte d’Ivoire, with some also living in Burkina Faso and Mali. Among their many masking traditions is the kponyugo, or firespitter mask. Its literal meaning is “head of one who died,” and it is used primarily by the Poro secret society at funerals, to drive away evil spirits and punish human malefactors. The mask combines attributes of multiple fierce animals, such as the hyena and warthog (both dominant here), crocodile, ram, and antelope. Women and children are counseld not to look at the kponyugo due to its ferocity.

This mask was acquired by a generous gift from an anonymous donor.

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TITLE: Abelam Bapamimi Mask
TYPE: other mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: East Sepik River
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Abelam)
DESCRIPTION: Bapamimi (Yam) Mask
CATALOG #: OCPG001
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Wapisaki
FUNCTION: Agriculture
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: woven plant fiber
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigments

The Abelam people of the Sepik River area of Papua New Guinea use several types of masks, many of them intricately woven of plant fiber. The yam mask (bapamimi) is not worn by the tribe members, but instead is used to decorate giant yams after harvest during the yam festival (wapisaki). Abelam people assemble at a designated village and lines up the yams, which can reach up to three meters long and weigh over 50 kilograms. They decorate them with masks such as this one, flowers, and other regalia. Everyone then discusses the planting, harvesting, the shape and size, and other details of each yam, much in the same way that gardening aficionados in the Canada, Europe, and the United States compare their own vegetables and flowers at prize shows. The largest and best yams confer status on the grower.

This mask was acquired by a generous gift from an anonymous donor.

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TITLE: Mam (Lucas) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Baja Verapaz
ETHNICITY: Mayan (Achí)
DESCRIPTION: Mam (Old Man) Mask of Lucas
CATALOG #: LAGT010
MAKER: Juan Chen Ordóñez (Rabinal, 1926-2017)
CEREMONY: Baile de los Costeños (Baile del Costeño)
AGE: 1990
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: dyed agave fiber hair; oil-based paint

Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, has numerous masked folk dances. Among them is the Baile del Costeño, sometimes called the Baile de los Costeños (Dance of the Coastal People), which is an early colonial dance-drama. The dance usually has 12 characters, divided into four buyers have come inland to exchange cocoa for cattle (maxeños, or cargadores), and six sellers of cattle, who are cowboys. The buyers are Cristóbal (the boss), Pablo (1st buyer, in a red mask), Ratón (2nd buyer, in a black mask), Mundo (3rd buyer). The vaqueros are Pascual (the boss), Tomás, Gaspar, Juan, Lucas (Mam, in a red mask with whiskers), and El Torito. Except for Lucas, the vaqueros wear flesh-colored masks with blue chins and gold eyebrows. There are also three more characters: La Panchita (wife of Lucas), El Torito, and El Miquito.  Several of these names are evocative of comical characteristics of the dances. Ratón means “Mouse,” Mundo means World, La Panchita means “The Little Stomach.” The dancers are accompanied by music from three marimba players.

In the drama, the sellers arrive in Rabinal during a holiday to unload their cattle for cocoa. They bring with them a beautiful woman, La Panchita, who is the wife of Lucas (represented by this mask), an old man. The cowboys have brought with them a little bull (El Torito) and the buyers have a little monkey (El Miquito), and together they have a mock bullfight for fun. Meanwhile, La Panchita has prepared food for the group, and soon the buyers, who have become drunk, start bothering La Panchita. Lucas then fights them off with a whip (chilío). Nonetheless, La Panchita shows some favor to the third buyer (Mundo), who has the group’s money. The dance ends when the leaders of each group, Cristóbal and Pascual, bargain to exchange the cocoa and cattle (symbolized by El Torito). The bull is branded by the buyers, and then they return to having a bullfight. At this point, they tell the story they have enacted in speeches, and then take their leave of the marimba players, thus ending the dance-drama. The whole proceeding takes about two to two-and-a-half hours.

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

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TITLE: Bedouin Niqab and Headcover
TYPE: face veil; head cover
GENERAL REGION: Middle East
COUNTRY: Egypt
SUBREGION: Siwa Oasis
ETHNICITY: Berber
DESCRIPTION: Berber Bedouin Woman’s Niqab (Veil Mask) and Head Covering
CATALOG #: MEEG003
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: celebration; social control
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wool cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: metal chains; silver coins; silver ornaments; semi-precious stones; stitching

In the western desert of Egypt, Berber women living in Bedouin societies sometimes wear masks or veils called niqab. The veils serve multiple functions, including protecting the women’s face from sun damage, filtering dust from the air, displaying adornment, and demonstrating wealth or status. The veil may also allow men to exercise social control over women’s bodies, maintaining their status as proprietary to fathers and husbands.  Not all Bedouian societies use the niqab, but those that do generally begin the practice after the woman or girl has been married.

The niqab worn by Bedouin women on special occasions are sometimes elaborately decorated with coins and beads, like this one.  Such masks are not for everyday use; they would be too hot and heavy. They are worn during special events, such as weddings and feasts.  This one comes from the Berber people in the Siwa Oasis, in the western Egyptian desert.

This set was obtained by the Museum through a generous anonymous donation.

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TITLE: Tiger Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Sacatepéquez
ETHNICITY: Mayan (Kaqchikel)
DESCRIPTION: Tigre (Tiger) Mask
CATALOG #: LAGT006
MAKER: Dolores Pérez Martínez (San Antonio Aguas Calientes, 1932-2021)
CEREMONY: Baile de los Animalitos
AGE: 2006
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; elastic straps

The Baile de los Animalitos (Dance of the Little Animals), also called the Baile de los Animales, 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 involves an angel, a hunter, and many different kinds of animals, including the jaguar (sometimes represented by a tiger, as here).  The dance probably predates the Spanish conquest, and involves many speeches by the animals relating to their characteristics, their role in the ecosystem, and (since colonization) their anomalous praise of the Virgin Mary. The hunter no longer hunts the animals in the modern rendition. After the speeches, they all dance to a marimba band.

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

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