TITLE: Barong Macan
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Indonesia
MAKER: Ida Wayan Tangguh, Singapadu (1935-2016)
CEREMONY: Barong Dance; Japatuan; Basur
AGE: 2012
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: glass rhinestones; mirrors; buffalo leather; paint; gilding; human hair; gold-plated silver ornaments; brass bells

Barong masks are some of the most important cultural artifacts in Bali.  The Barong is a mythical beast that purifies and protects the village. The mask itself is a sacred object of worship and usually kept in a temple. Barong masks are taken out to perform dances and ceremonies on major holidays, most notably the Kunti Sraya, or Barong Dance. That dance recreates a contest between good (represented by the Barong and its followers) and evil (represented by the goddess of death, Rangda, and her followers).

Barongs come in many types, depending on the type of animal represented.  Barongs may take the form of a boar, bull or deer, for example. This mask, the barong macan, represents a tiger, the most fearsome animal in Indonesia. The macan maintains balance between the physical and spiritual worlds, and acts as a potent protector against the harmful influence of ghosts on the village.

This specific barong macan was the last one made by the master craftsman, I. Wayan Tangguh of Singapadu, before he died.

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

Video of a Barong Ceremony in Bali, Indonesia, 2018.


TITLE: Raï Mushroom Mask
TYPE: mask
SUBREGION: Middle Hills
DESCRIPTION: Shamanic Mushroom Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Healing; Purification
AGE: 1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: Fomes fomentarius arboreal mushroom

Among the Raï people of the Middle Hills region of Nepal, the shaman plays an important social role as the channeler of spirits for healing, purification, and protection of those under his supervision. Masks help the shaman embody one of the spirits that surround the living world and use it to heal the sick, drive away evil influences, and guide villagers through changes in their lives (birth, adulthood, changes in social status, death) that might be affected by the spirit world. When hung in a house, the mask serves a protective function.  The Raï people are known for making shamanic and house protective masks from the parasitic arboreal mushroom, Fomes fomentarius also known as tinder fungus.


TITLE: Volto Carnival Mask
TYPE: mask
MAKER: Carta Alta, Venice
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: 2011
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; ribbon

The volto (“face”) is a classic Venetian Carnival mask that covers the entire face for maximum anonymity. The lack of an opening, like the bauta mask, makes it appear more natural but less functional, as the masquerader must remove the mask for eating and drinking, and speaking is obstructed by the lack of a mouth opening.


TITLE: Seneca Hagondes Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: New York State
ETHNICITY: Iroquois (Seneca)
DESCRIPTION: Hagondes Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: social control; entertainment
AGE: mid to late twentieth century
MAIN MATERIAL: cotton cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: dyed felt; yarn; thread; shoe strings

The Seneca people belong to the Iroquois League (Haudenosaunee) and inhabited the New York state area before being displaced by Dutch and British settlers.  They maintain tribal lands in the New York area today, reserved by treaty.  Among the spirits familiar to the Seneca is the Hagondes, or “long nose” spirit.  The Hagondes is a trickster, clown, and cannibal who frightens misbehaving children. As such, they have no ritual use, but are instead used as need arises.

In the past, Hagondes masks were made of buckskin, but changes in the Seneca traditional ways of life, including the reduced prominence of deer hunting to tribal life, led the Seneca to adopt new materials in some cases.

For more on Iroquois masking traditions, see William N. Fenton, The False Faces of the Iroquois (University of Oklahoma Press, 1987).


TITLE: Azteca Mask
TYPE: face mask
DESCRIPTION: Azteca (Aztec warrior)
MAKER: Unknown maker in Cruz de Ataque
CEREMONY: Danza de la Conquista; Carnival
AGE: ca. 1960s
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; hardware; plant fiber

The Danza de la Conquista, or Dance of the Conquest, is a traditional celebration in many parts of Mexico.  The dance takes two forms. One retells the conquest of Spain by the Spanish monarchy from the Moors, finally achieved in 1492 and properly called the Reconquista. The other retells the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. This mask belongs to the second story. It represents a Spaniard coming into contact with his Aztec enemy.  The Azteca mask is also worn during Carnival.


TITLE: Kran Gla Mask
TYPE: mask
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
DESCRIPTION: Gla Society Spider Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Funeral Secret Society; Social Control
AGE: ca. 2000
OTHER MATERIALS: metal tacks; kaolin clay

The Kran ethnic subgroup of the Dan people, and are also known as the We or Guere, living primarily in the Côte d’Ivoire.  The Gla secret society of the Kran people are charged with maintaining social control, including judicial functions, as well as officiating at harvest ceremonies and funerals.  They use “male” masks such as these to confer authority on the wearer in the performance of his important community functions.


TITLE: Mardi Gras Crocodile
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: New Orleans, Louisiana
DESCRIPTION: Leather Crocodile Mask
MAKER: Richard Thompson (Elmhurst, Illinois, 1957-2022)
CEREMONY: Mardi Gras
AGE: 2013
OTHER MATERIALS: acrylic paint

In Catholic practice, Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the last day of celebration of Carnival before the fasting period of Lent. In the United States, the holiday is nowhere more vigorously celebrated than in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, a two-week Carnival season terminating on Mardi Gras is celebrated with parades composed of elaborate costumes and masks, floats, marching bands, all organize by private “krewes” composed of public-spirited citizens dedicated to preserving the Mardi Gras tradition. Krewes tend to have a fairly constant structure of officers, who frequently ride horseback in handsome costumes and draped masks, float riders who chuck “throws,” or small gifts such as plastic beaded necklaces, toys, or mementos (usually with the krewe’s name and insignia) into the cheering crowds, and a guest “king” and “queen” of the krewe.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is also typically celebrated with formal balls held by the krewes in honor of the king and queen, and to celebrate the season.  Mask wearing among street celebrants is common as well. Traditionally, Mardi Gras masks are made of formed and painted leather, and can represent any character from real life or fantasy.  In modern practice, cheap masks mass manufactured of sequined cloth or paper maché covered in dyed feathers have become common.

This specific mask was hand made by a skilled artisan in the Finger Lakes region of New York and brought to New Orleans during Mardi Gras to be sold.

Click above to watch a short documentary about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2019 and 2020.


TITLE: Halloween Witch Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: United States of America
DESCRIPTION: Latex Witch Mask
MAKER: Death Studios, LaPorte, Indiana
CEREMONY: Halloween
AGE: 2012
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; epoxy; synthetic hair

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 was hand cast from a mold and painted by Death Studios, a maker of exceptional quality horror masks and props, located in Indiana, and sold under the name “Scream, Witch, Scream.” Death Studios continues to sell this and other latex Halloween masks.

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


TITLE: Guro Gu Mask
TYPE: mask
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Celebration; Entertainment; Funeral
AGE: ca. 2010
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

The Guro gu mask represents a beautiful young woman. It forms part of the trio of sacred masks with the zamble and zaouli. In the past, gu was the wife of zamble, but in modern rituals she is represented as the wife of his brother, zaouli. All three masks are cult objects to which sacrifices are periodically made to bring prosperity to the family that owns them and to drive away evil spirits.  They are danced for celebrations and as entertainment, and also at funerals and to honor ancestors.

This mask was made for the tourist trade, but it displays the exceptional skill and artistry typical of guro master carvers. The elaborate hair style is an important element of the gu‘s appeal.

For more on Guro masking traditions, see Eberhard Fischer, Guro (Prestel, 2008).


TITLE: Abelam Bapa Tagwa
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: East Sepik River, Maprik Area, Wosera
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Abelam)
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Tambaran Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Agriculture; Purification; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1940s
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 bapa tagwa shown here is a helmet mask, with small eye holes to create a fierce, pig-like appearance. The masks are worn with shaggy leaf costumes by members of the Tambaran Secret Society during adult initiation (circumcision) rituals for boys to invoke nature spirits. The masqueraders guard the ceremony with bamboo or bone weapons to clear away evil spirits and deter women and children from witnessing the secret ritual. Before the ceremony, the bapa tagwa is painted bright orange. Such masks may also be used in yam harvests.