TITLE: Dogon Satimbe Mask
TYPE: face mask
MAKER: Unknown
AGE: 1940s
MAIN MATERIAL: ebony wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; glass beads; cowrie shells; hair; cotton string; 1919 British West Africa penny; bronze bell

The Dogon people of Mali use a tremendous variety of masks, most of which center around funeral rites. Traditionally, the Awa Society controlled the use of masks. This mask represents Yayemme, the first woman to discover the mystical use of masks, and Yasigi, a female character from Dogon creation myths who served beer at the first Dogon sigi celebration.  It is used in funerals to usher the spirit of the dead from the village back to its proper place in the bush.


TITLE: Hanuman Reamker Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Cambodia
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Reamker Dance Drama
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: paste; gilding; mirrors; paint

Reamker is the Cambodian adaptation of the Hindu epic from India, the Ramayana. It is performed for public entertainment and features paper maché helmet masks on most male characters.  This specific character is Hanuman, the monkey god who plays the central role in assisting Rama (sometimes rendered “Phreah Ream” in Khmer), the hero of the epic, to recover his wife, who was abducted by the demon king Ravana (Krong Reap in Khmer).


TITLE: Austrian Perchtenmaske
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Austria
DESCRIPTION: Perchtenmaske (Krampus Mask)
MAKER: Josef “Sepp” Seidl, Sankt Veit im Pongau (1975- )
CEREMONY: Perchtenlauf
AGE: 2009
OTHER MATERIALS: goat horns; mesh; glass eyes; paint; horse hair

Perchtenlauf is a Tyrolean winter festival equivalent to the old Norse Yule.  In many parts of Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy, in mid-December the town organizes a parade of Perchten, or demons who represent evil spirits (known in Germany as Krampus).  The Perchten wear frightening horned masks with sharp teeth and long, lolling tongues, typically in a suit of goat skin with loud cowbells attached to their belt.  Their function is to accompanying St. Nicholas, who reward good children with treats and presents, while the Perchten punish bad children by beating them with birch switches or throwing them into wicker baskets on their backs to carry down to Hell for punishment.


TITLE: Santa Claus Mask
TYPE: hood mask
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: New York City
DESCRIPTION: Buckram Santa Claus Mask
MAKER: Dessart Brothers
CEREMONY: Christmas
AGE: 1940s
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; flannel hood; cotton batting

Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the principal Christian prophet, observed on the 25th day of December.  It is one of the most important Christian holidays.  In North American observance, heavy emphasis during the ceremony is placed on the Christian virtues of generosity and charity, expressed in part by gift-giving.  Gifts are left for family members in stockings symbolically hung to dry a chimney mantel or under a decorated tree.

The decorated tree is among the North American traditions brought over from Germany, where pre-Christian peoples had decorated trees with candles to celebrate Yule, the mid-winter ceremony.  To emphasize the additional Christian virtue of humility, gifts were not attributed to the actual giver, but to a supernatural visit from Saint Nicholas, a fourth century Greek bishop, whose image merged with the gift-giving Germanic father of gods, Wodan (Norse Odin), to because Santa Claus.

Like Wodan, Santa Claus has a long white beard and flies through the night sky to bring gifts. Germanic peoples have long celebrated in December by dressing up to represent some form of the Santa Claus character, and the Christians of the United States adopted the custom, primarily to present children with the image of a benevolent old man at parades, shopping malls, and parties.

This mask is an inexpensive, mass-produced buckram version, produced by the Dessart Brothers of Brooklyn, and presumably designed for private parties or home use, better to disguise the wearer. This specific mask was used in a classroom in the Midwest in the 1940s and 1950s for the benefit of school children.


TITLE: Hopi Koyemsi Katsina
TYPE: hood mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: United States of America
DESCRIPTION: Koyemsi (Mudhead) Katsina Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Katsina Dance
AGE: mid-twentieth century
OTHER MATERIALS: cloth wadding; string; clay

Among the Puebloan nations of the southwest United States, the Hopi people of Arizona and New Mexico are known for their katsina (also spelled kachina) dolls, given to children to help them recognize the spirits that will protect and benefit the Hopi people. These dolls represent masked dancers who have assumed the form of spirits and gods, dancing at ceremonies from the winter solstice (December) to just after the summer solstice (July). The ceremonies especially focus on the planting season and ensuring a fruitful crop.  The katsina dancers perform important religious and social roles in purifying the village, policing Hopi behavior, and in some cases entertaining the audience.  They are also used in adult initiation ceremonies for boys.

Hopi society is infused with religion, in which the katsinam play a major role during half the year.  There are numerous dances and ceremonies involving the katsinam between February and August, including the Powamuya (Bean Ceremony) in February and talangva (summer solstice). Some of these ceremonies are complex, involving night visits by the katsinam to regulate village conduct, adult initiation of boys between 10 and 15 years into the Katsina Society, and dances during the daytime to increase the fertility of the crops and wildlife upon which the Hopi depend.

Both the Hopi and Zuñi nations use the koyemsi katsina. Koyemsi translates roughly to “mudhead.” The character has slightly different meanings to different nations. To the Hopi, the koyemsi represents the first being to emerge onto the earth from a sipapu, which is why he is covered in mud. Unlike other katsinas, he does not represent a god spirit.  The koyemsi appears in most dances and plays multiple important social roles, from policing behavior to clowning. The koyemsi may drum, dance, play games with the villagers, or award prizes for the races and guessing games they organize. For example, a koyemsi leads the Hototöm (racing katsinam), who challenge village men and boys to races in early spring, and he carries food prizes wrapped in a blanket for the winner. Koyemsimu also organize groups of singers, who sing to other katsina groups and bring them gifts.


TITLE: Female Huehue
TYPE: face mask
ETHNICITY: Nahua & Mixtec
DESCRIPTION: Female Huehue Mask
MAKER: Magno León, Huetlalpan (1914-1977)
CEREMONY: Danza de los Huehues
AGE: ca. 1950
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; elastic bands

Huehue means village elder.  The Danza de los Huehues predates the Spanish conquest and is believed to have begun around Day of the Dead, when village elders helped the widows to find shelter after their husbands died in battle.  Some believe the dance originated in Tlaxcala or Huasteca and spread to Puebla.  The Devil is a character added by way of Catholic influence; he is charged with harassing the dancers and audience during the performance.

Most huehue masks are male, but some female huehues such as this one are danced as well.  The dance is typically held in late June, in honor of a patron saint.

This mask was carved by a master sculptor and used for many years. One former owner so prized the mask that he painted his initials, J.L.L., on the inside.

For more on masks from Puebla, see Bryan J. Stevens, Mexican Masks and Puppets: Master Carvers of the Sierra de Puebla (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Pub’g, 2012).


TITLE: Totsakan Khon Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Thailand
DESCRIPTION: Totsakan (Green) Khon
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ramakien Dance Drama
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; gilding; mirrors; paint; mother-of-pearl teeth; wooden fangs

The Ramakien is the Thai adaptation of the traditional Hindu epic from India, the Ramayana.  Most male characters in the drama wear masks fashioned from paper maché and elaborately gilded, decorated, and painted.

This mask represents the demon king Totsakan, also written Tosakanth (or Ravana in Hindi), who is supposed to have 100 faces and 20 hands. His face is green during most of the play, but when he ascends to power his face turns gold.  Totsakan is the villain at the center of the Ramakien, as he abducts Sita, the beautiful wife of the hero, King Rama.  The remainder of the play focuses on Rama’s efforts, with his loyal demigod ally Hanuman, to rescue Sita and punish Totsakan.

For more on Thai khon masks, see Natthapatra Chandavij & Promporn Pramualratana, Thai Puppets and Khon Masks (Bangkok: River Books, 1998).


TITLE: Kumu Nsembu Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
DESCRIPTION: Nsembu Nkunda Society Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Secret Society; Adult Initiation; Divination
AGE: 1980s-1990s
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin; pigment

The Kumu or Komo people inhabit the Ituri rainforests in the eastern part of Congo.  They are agriculturalists with animist traditions.

A culturally important ritual for the Kumu people is the circumcision of boys as they enter adulthood.  The nsembu mask is used exclusively by members of the Nkunda Secret Society for the purposes of adult initiation. They also use the mask for divination under the effects of hallucinogens.  The mask itself represents the diviner’s spirit.  Kumu masks are somewhat rare, but the known examples tend to have wide open eyes and mouths, frequently with sharp teeth.


TITLE: Waggis Carnival Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Switzerland
DESCRIPTION: Waggis (Alsation) Carnival Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fasnacht (Carnival)
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; plastic hair; wool hat

Fasnacht is what the Tyrolean Swiss call Carnival.  In many towns in Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy, local folk don elaborate masks and costumes to parade through the town.  Different towns have variations on the parade, such as the Schemenlaufen of Imst, the Schellerlaufen of Nassereith, and the Muller and Matschgerer of Innsbruck, Austria.

In Basel, Switzerland, masks are almost all made of paper maché and take a helmet form. Armies of costumed clowns, musicians, and dancers, called cliques, parade around town in uniform mask styles for 72 nearly continuous hours on the Monday following Ash Wednesday. The paraders must wear their Larven (masks) throughout the parade and are expected never to remove the mask in order to identify themselves.  They throw confetti at crowd members with such proliferation that it blankets the streets.

Although there is a great deal of innovation and creativity in mask styles, there are certain styles that tend to reappear annually. This mask, known as Waggis, represents a big-nosed, frizzy-haired clown, who wears wooden clogs, a blue shirt, and a red neckerchief. He is a prankster who parodies the Alsatian farmers who formerly came to Basel market days to sell their produce (Waggis literally means a person from Alsace in Basel dialect). It was worn for several decades and retired after the 2010 parade.

Other common characters include the Alti Dante (old aunt), Dummbeeter (trumpetist) and Pierrot (a sad clown from the late Italian Commedia dell’Arte, known for his white and black makeup).


TITLE: Ogoni Mami Wata Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Nigeria
DESCRIPTION: Ogoni Mami Wata Face Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Funeral
AGE: 1970s

The Ogoni people have managed to maintain much of their precolonial culture, including their masquerading traditions.

Masks are used for funeral celebrations and to celebrate the harvesting of yams.  The Mami Wata represented here 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.