Central American Masks

Written by Ian Bracegirdle

Central and South America

Central and Southern America have a rich masking history. One ofrepparttar earliest examples dates

from 10000 to 12000 BC. It is a fossilised vertebra of an extinct lama representingrepparttar 116078 head of

a coyote. More recent records begun duringrepparttar 116079 conquest ofrepparttar 116080 area, contemporary excavations

combined with murals byrepparttar 116081 indigenous people reveal an array of styles and uses. Most ofrepparttar 116082

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 holdrepparttar 116083 spirits of gods or ancestors and when captured from an enemy take away power.

In contrast torepparttar 116084 aboverepparttar 116085 murals and painted vase ofrepparttar 116086 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 ofrepparttar 116087 conquistadors

causedrepparttar 116088 erosion ofrepparttar 116089 established order andrepparttar 116090 imposition ofrepparttar 116091 catholic church. The

results of this, acrossrepparttar 116092 whole of Central and South America, was a synthesis of Pagan and

Christian celebrations. Despiterepparttar 116093 removal ofrepparttar 116094 ruling eliterepparttar 116095 masking traditions

continued especially where associated with agriculture and fertility. (Muchrepparttar 116096 same as in


The missionaries alarmed atrepparttar 116097 continuing rituals encouragedrepparttar 116098 local people to adapt their

festivals to Christian ones which fell close torepparttar 116099 same time of year. For example inrepparttar 116100 Andes

Intirayami feel close to Carnival. The pre- Hispanic ceremonies forrepparttar 116101 dead in Central America

coincided with All Souls and All Saints. Just as inrepparttar 116102 Andes where ancient temples were built

upon withrepparttar 116103 new churchesrepparttar 116104 traditions of masquerade were embodied with inrepparttar 116105 new

festivals. Interestingly this had already happened as Christianity spread throughout Europe.

Withinrepparttar 116106 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

torepparttar 116107 present day.

Guatemala and Mexico

The collectors of old masks from this area find that even masks fromrepparttar 116108 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 inrepparttar 116109 area it does help. My

sister lives inrepparttar 116110 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 fromrepparttar 116111 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 ofrepparttar 116112 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 enjoyingrepparttar 116113 evening air,repparttar 116114 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

this masks."

Having spent my allowance forrepparttar 116115 day, and having no interest whatsoever inrepparttar 116116 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.

Thenrepparttar 116117 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."

Pacific North West Coast American Masks

Written by Ian Bracegirdle

Pacific North West Coast North American Masks North America is home to a fantastic range of American masks. Some of these are traditional dating back centuries others are modern based uponrepparttar traditions of Madi Gras and adaptations. If we extendrepparttar 116077 range a little intorepparttar 116078 Caribbean there is alsorepparttar 116079 Trinidad Carnivalrepparttar 116080 most famous ofrepparttar 116081 festivals in this particular culture.

The area to be covered here are; The Pacific North West Coast

The masks ofrepparttar 116082 Pacific West Coast of North America are a reflection ofrepparttar 116083 lifestyle, mythology and religious beliefs ofrepparttar 116084 indigenous people. Here you will come across several distinct tribes,repparttar 116085 most well known being; Haida, Kwakwaka'wakw ( or Kwakiult ), Tsimshian, Tlingit, Bella Bella, Nuu-chah-Nulth and Makah. The artistic style of these peoples has a commonality inrepparttar 116086 use of curved symbolry which occurs within pictures of people and creatures, both real and mythological and surface decoration. Here there are rich formalised traditions developed over many centuries to expressingrepparttar 116087 individuality ofrepparttar 116088 area.

Art work and in particular carved wooden mask were collected from this area fromrepparttar 116089 time ofrepparttar 116090 first incursions of western sailors. Sadlyrepparttar 116091 diseases brought by these visitors had a devesting effect almost wiping out some ofrepparttar 116092 villages. Later devastation torepparttar 116093 cultures were wrought byrepparttar 116094 church and local officialdom. Children were taken away from their parents and sent to boarding schools to take them away fromrepparttar 116095 tribal ways. Art work and ceremonial regalia were burned driving traditional practices underground. The survival ofrepparttar 116096 art and traditions of this area are now recognised as important. In particular traditional art work is one manner in whichrepparttar 116097 people of this area can communicaterepparttar 116098 value of their interpretation ofrepparttar 116099 world torepparttar 116100 rest of us.

I hadrepparttar 116101 opportunity to visit this area during 2003. The whole coastal area is extremely verdant. Tall temperate rain forest trees grow torepparttar 116102 edge ofrepparttar 116103 sea. Wild life abounds inrepparttar 116104 sea and forest. Salmon and whales are common inrepparttar 116105 sea and deer and other game animals fillrepparttar 116106 forests. The area is abundant in all those things that makes a hunting collecting way of liferepparttar 116107 natural choice forrepparttar 116108 inhabitants. The mountainous terrain also forces settlements to be nearrepparttar 116109 sea or in valleys.

Visiting this area during August we soon became aware ofrepparttar 116110 salmon swimming up river to spawn. These were not large rivers but shallow tidal outlets only a few centimetres deep. Each square metre of water could be populated by as may as 8 fully grown fish. With my untrained eye I noticed at least 5 species of salmon. To fish in these waters would be of no difficulty even forrepparttar 116111 amateur. As we moved further upstreamrepparttar 116112 final demise of these abundant creatures became noticeable asrepparttar 116113 smell of rotting fish pervadedrepparttar 116114 air.

Despite hearing tales of over fishing, such local abundance is hard to visualise unless you have experienced it. In particular having lived in Britain most of my life I have always appreciated wild salmon as an expensive luxury. Here it is so common it rots away after spawning.

As well as appreciatingrepparttar 116115 natural beauty ofrepparttar 116116 arearepparttar 116117 beauty of local craftsmanship in carving is apparent inrepparttar 116118 galleries and craft shops ofrepparttar 116119 area. In particular I enjoyedrepparttar 116120 galleries in Victoria, Vancouver Island. Within this very compact city there are many galleries displaying a whole range of local art. For merepparttar 116121 delight wasrepparttar 116122 exquisite mask and carvings. Some of them truly of museum quality. I

If you are interested inrepparttar 116123 art of this area thenrepparttar 116124 galleries of Victoria are a worthwhile starting point. Other galleries can be accessed on cruises to Alaska.

An overview ofrepparttar 116125 mask ofrepparttar 116126 area

The masks of North America can be divided into four obvious groups. The links between some ofrepparttar 116127 rituals behindrepparttar 116128 masks are apparent and there are also strong thematic links torepparttar 116129 African masks throughrepparttar 116130 remembrance of and devotion to ancestors. Coming of age and initiation ceremonies also play a part.

Onlyrepparttar 116131 northern peoples will be considered here.


Some experts believe thatrepparttar 116132 masquerade tradition only began withrepparttar 116133 influence ofrepparttar 116134 European settlers. This is contradicted byrepparttar 116135 fact that some ivory burial masks have been excavated from 2000 years ago. The practice of dancing with masks does seem to be a much later development. Yet in contradiction shamanism was a notable part ofrepparttar 116136 cultures in this and surrounding this area. Alsorepparttar 116137 land bridge traversed byrepparttar 116138 earliest people to spread from Europe in this area forced people to pass this way. I find it difficult to accept that masked shamanistic ceremonies were not a part ofrepparttar 116139 culture.

Dance masks were generally made forrepparttar 116140 shaman who linkedrepparttar 116141 community torepparttar 116142 spirit world. Most important ceremonies took place inrepparttar 116143 winter. Typically, masks representedrepparttar 116144 spirit ofrepparttar 116145 animals and natural phenomena as visualised byrepparttar 116146 shaman. Essentially two dimensional, as opposed torepparttar 116147 three dimensional forms ofrepparttar 116148 West coast traditions,repparttar 116149 masks were painted in black, white, red and blue. Constructed from an outer wheel of willow bands, supporting various emblems, surrounding a flat central area representingrepparttar 116150 facerepparttar 116151 masks synthesiserepparttar 116152 human and animal elements.

Some other areas produced less elaborate designs. Duringrepparttar 116153 dancerepparttar 116154 swaying chorus of women would wear small finger masks. <

Pacific North West Coast Masks of this area must be considered inrepparttar 116155 light of howrepparttar 116156 local people were forced byrepparttar 116157 settlers to abandon their own ways. Laws were passed to outlawrepparttar 116158 Potlatch and force native children into a Christian way of life and a European style education. A large seizure of Kwakiutl ritual artefacts was made in 1921 byrepparttar 116159 police in Alert Bay. Some ofrepparttar 116160 traditions managed to flourish underground, notablerepparttar 116161 Kwakiutl, where there are direct links between contemporary makers andrepparttar 116162 older traditions. Modern mask makers have developedrepparttar 116163 styles of their forbears asrepparttar 116164 need to re-establishrepparttar 116165 old traditions has emerged.

The People of this area usedrepparttar 116166 natural wealth ofrepparttar 116167 land and sea as their means of subsistence. The abundance of natural food allowed it to be stored forrepparttar 116168 winter months and gaverepparttar 116169 opportunity forrepparttar 116170 practice ofrepparttar 116171 elaborate ceremonies during these colder months.

Devastation by Disease

A large number of native people lost their lives due torepparttar 116172 introduction of foreign diseases. In particular smallpox decimatedrepparttar 116173 population of many areas. The Haida in particular were reduced from about 8000 beforerepparttar 116174 arrival of Europeans to 800 by 1880.


In each ofrepparttar 116175 tribal areasrepparttar 116176 potlatch feast had a different status. Commonly they all were a forum forrepparttar 116177 continuations ofrepparttar 116178 local traditions and had direct links to social order. Masks were used duringrepparttar 116179 potlatch to carry out religious and initiations rites, define status and to help increaserepparttar 116180 impact ofrepparttar 116181 mythical element ofrepparttar 116182 ceremony. A major element ofrepparttar 116183 Potlatch wererepparttar 116184 display by chiefs of their riches. Lavish gifts were given and precious resources used to showrepparttar 116185 status ofrepparttar 116186 potlatch giver.

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