TITLE: Moreno (Caporal Tundiqui)
TYPE: mask; accessories
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Bolivia
SUBREGION: Oruro
ETHNICITY: Quechua and Aymara
DESCRIPTION: Moreno (Caporal Tundiqui) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Carnival (La Morenada)
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: tin
OTHER MATERIALS: polyester fiber; paint; dyed feathers

The Morenada (Dance of the Moors) is an annual ceremony in several towns in the Altiplano region of Bolivia, Peru, and northern Chile, usually incorporated into Carnival.  The dance includes both male and female Moors dancing in a group with whips, rattles, or scepters. A King of the Moors (Rey de Morenos) presides and coordinates the dance. The dance typically occurs in the course of a parade, with marching bands playing musical scores for the dancers.  The precise origins of the Morenada are the subject of debate, with most specialists concluding that the dance was inspired by African slaves brought to Bolivia to work the mines or the subsequent integration of Africans into the Yungas community near La Paz.  The morena wears a fancy version of the traditional Bolivian costume with the classic bowler hat.

This mask represents a male moreno, or Moor, made in the 1980s from recycled tin.  The Moors obviously never reached Bolivia, but they are represented in honor of the Spanish reconquest of Granada from the Moors in 1492.  The morenos dance as a group of males and females, both wear an elaborate and colorful costume.  Males carry a scepter, whip, or matraca (rattle)  like the ones shown here.

For more on Bolivian masquerade, see Peter McFarren ed., Masks of the Bolivian Andes (La Paz: Editorial Quipus/Banco Mercantil SA, 1993).

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TITLE: Moor Mask
TYPE: face mask; accessory
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Moro (Moor) Mask
MAKER: Antonio Vázquez Tepo (Xico, 1933-2017)
CEREMONY: Danza de los Moros y Cristianos
AGE: 2016
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

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 the Mexican state of Veracruz. 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, and Veracruz. Characters vary depending on locality, although they always include “Christians” or “Spaniards” and Moors. This mask represents a Moor and is made in the style common in the region of Xalapa and Coatepec.

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TITLE: Santiago Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Santiago (Saint) Mask
MAKER: Lino Mora Rivera, Naolinco (1956- )
CEREMONY: Fiesta de San Mateo (Danza de los Pilatos)
AGE: 2017
MAIN MATERIAL: equimite wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; lacquer; string

The Danza de los Pilatos, also called La Danza de los Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians), is an important celebration in the Mexican state of Veracruz. 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, and Veracruz. Characters vary depending on locality, although they always include “Christians” or “Spaniards” and Moors. In Naolinco, Veracruz, the dance is performed on the holiday of the town patron saint, St. Matthew (Fiesta de San Mateo), celebrated on Sept. 20-21 every year.  There, Moors take many forms, including devils, pirates, clowns, or, as here, skeletons. This mask represents a santiago, also called a santiaguero, who is a warrior-disciple of St. James. The santiagos fight the Moors with wooden swords and small shields.

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


A brief video with highlights of the Danza de los Moros y Cristianos from Naolinco’s 2018 Fiesta de San Mateo.

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TITLE: Payaso Mask
TYPE: face mask; accessory
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Payaso (Clown)
MAKER: Rey Tepo (Xico, 1972- )
CEREMONY: Santo Entierro de Cristo; Fiesta de la Asunción; Carnival
AGE: 2016
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

Santo Entierro de Cristo (“Sacred Burial of Christ”) is an important festival in parts of Veracruz, particularly in the region of Teocelo, and is celebrated on the last Sunday in January. During the festival, clowns wearing red-nosed masks, animals, devils, and other characters dance to drum and trumpet music along a parade route, clicking castanets, and accompanying an image of the burial of Jesus of Nazareth. The route proceeds from the local church to a large floral arch dubbed El Calvario, where mass is held. The procession is accompanied by drums and trumpets. Sometimes other masked characters, such as animals, tourists, and cartoon characters accompany the parade.  Such masks are also worn at other celebrations, most prominently Carnival and the Asunción (“Assumption,” referring to Jesus’ mother Mary passing into Heaven), held on August 15th.

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TITLE: Apache Ga’an
TYPE: hood and mask; accessories
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: Arizona
ETHNICITY: Apache
DESCRIPTION: Ga’an Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ga’an Dance
AGE: mid-twentieth century
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed cotton cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; saguaro cactus rib; mirrors; paint

Among the religiously important figures of the Apache are the ga’an, mountain spirits that protect and purify the village. There are various myth stories surrounding the ga’an.  One is that the ga’an were responsible for liberating the animal spirits locked in a cave where Crow had imprisoned them.  Another is that an Apache boy fell into a cave where ga’an spirits resided. When the boy died, he became one of the ga’an and led them to his village, where the ga’an danced to bless and heal the boy’s people.

The ga’an ceremony is performed to drum and song, and begins with the white ga’an, or “messenger,” using a “bull roarer,” or whistle on the end of a string, to create an ethereal sound announcing the start of the dance.  All dancers except the messenger carry wood or yucca spike “swords,” usually with symbols painted on them (shown in the first photo).  The ga’an mask must be prepared by a shaman with great care, and the patterns, glyphs and colors on the crown all have symbolic significance. The messenger’s mask is usually smaller than the others and uses white cloth instead of black.  The mirrors on the crown, a recent addition, flash as the ga’an dance, adding to the dazzling effect.  The small wooden slats that dangle from the mask create a clicking sound characteristic of the ga’an.  The dance is performed at na ih es (girl’s adulthood initiation ritual), to influence the weather, heal the sick, and to purify the village of evil spirits.

Video of the Apache Ga’an Dance, performed in 2019 in Arizona.

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