Central and South America
Central and Southern America have a rich masking history. One of earliest examples dates
from 10000 to 12000 BC. It is a fossilised vertebra of an extinct lama representing head of
a coyote. More recent records begun during conquest of area, contemporary excavations
combined with murals by indigenous people reveal an array of styles and uses. Most of
surviving masks are apparently burial masks. Often they are carved from some form of rock or
made form clay. Skull masks, some jade encrusted, have also been excavated. These are believed
to hold spirits of gods or ancestors and when captured from an enemy take away power.
In contrast to above murals and painted vase of Mayan era show colourful
head-dresses and mask used for a variety of occasions. Masks were not only used for
entertainment and religious purposes but also by warriors. The influx of conquistadors
caused erosion of established order and imposition of catholic church. The
results of this, across whole of Central and South America, was a synthesis of Pagan and
Christian celebrations. Despite removal of ruling elite masking traditions
continued especially where associated with agriculture and fertility. (Much same as in
The missionaries alarmed at continuing rituals encouraged local people to adapt their
festivals to Christian ones which fell close to same time of year. For example in Andes
Intirayami feel close to Carnival. The pre- Hispanic ceremonies for dead in Central America
coincided with All Souls and All Saints. Just as in Andes where ancient temples were built
upon with new churches traditions of masquerade were embodied with in new
festivals. Interestingly this had already happened as Christianity spread throughout Europe.
Within second layer of change there was already a similar layer of pre-Christian pagan
practice. The festivals that developed during these times have, in many cases, endured through
to present day.
Guatemala and Mexico
The collectors of old masks from this area find that even masks from last 30 years that
have been used in festivities fetch good prices. Masks from further, back depending upon
quality, can command even higher prices. If you have a contact in area it does help. My
sister lives in area and sometimes helps by giving me great masks. I anticipate paying but
is a brilliant sister. Two good galleries to contact are>>>>>>>>> and>>>>>>.
There are lots of good contemporary makers. I have bought several masks from mask maker on
the market in Chitchecastenango. I have a story about mask makers in this area especially for
those visiting on a tight budget. When ever visiting an area of world that is different to
your own it is useful to get as much local knowledge as possible. However sometimes local
knowledge is not enough for something new comes along......
I use this story in my mask making classes to allow people to experience cultural differences.
After a days outing with my sister, Sylvia, her daughter Antonia, my wife Dot and our two sons,
Sam and Adam, visiting various interesting places we stopped in Panahachel. It was early
evening and we were ready to relax before our evening meal, soft drinks and beer were on offer.
We were simply enjoying evening air, time of day and conversation. It had been a good
Suddenly a local man and his son approached use. He was dominant. "Senor do you want to buy
Having spent my allowance for day, and having no interest whatsoever in mask I said
The mask was a really low grade tourist mask painted blue and Yellow. It had a snake curling
around its face and two sheep or goats horns nailed to its head.
Then negotiating started.
"No thank you!" I responded, politely but firmly.
After a time you do get tired of people selling things to us gringos.
He persisted. "Senor, you can have this mask for 30 quetzales."
"No! I responded I have spent my money for today."