Last week we looked at what were essentially Santiagueros masks from Puebla, and today I have some Moro style masks from the Mexican state of Puebla to show you, all from somewhere in the Moros y Cristianos/Santiagueros/ Conquista spectrum. They are old, attractive, well-carved, and red-faced.
I bought the first of these from René Bustamante in 1995. It was said to be a “Moro for la danza de la Conquista in Petlaya, Puebla.” I have not been able to locate Petlaya. Furthermore, I don’t believe that there are Moors in the Conquest dance. So what is it? The Santiagueros dance is very popular in Puebla, and the Santiaguero dancers in Puebla usually wear red masks, so maybe this is a Santiaguero. On the other hand, if this mask is from the Conquest dance, and with such a fancy haircut, maybe it is a Spaniard, but it is certainly not an Indian. Confusing choices! I like it because the hair is so stylized.
There is a tiny recessed mouth.
Today we will look at a trio of masks from a variant of the Santiagueros dance, which in some areas of Puebla has the local name of La Danza de Negros. It would seem in this case that the Negros dancers do NOT represent Afro-mestizos or Black people, but rather “dark ones.” In this instance, the Santiagueros have golden beards and the Negros have dark beards, analogous to the white hat/black duality that was once common in American Westerns. Probably the bad guys represent the Spanish conquerors. As I labored to clarify my understanding of these three masks, I was pleased and surprised to recognize that two of them were apparently by the same hand and all three were possibly from the same dance, although I had purchased them as unrelated. They came with limited information, and then a very recent YouTube™ video had revealed identical or similar masks performing in modern and well documented dances (see link that follows the first photo of the female mask). Here is the first mask, which I purchased from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in June of 1988. It was described then as a Santiaguero mask from the Santiagueros dance in Agua de la Mina, in the municipio of Guadalupe Victoria, Puebla. Agua de la Mina is about 25 miles to the northwest of Chichiquila, Puebla, which will serve today as a central reference point.
This Santiaguero is a beautiful old mask with worn paint.
Here is a YouTube™ video of the Danza de Negros in Agua de la Mina, municipio de Saltillo la Fragua, Puebla. It turns out that this is the same Agua de la Mina, but apparently the county seat (municipio) has changed since the time the mask was collected. This (optional) video is poorly focused, so that one cannot see that the dancers are not wearing masks, while another imperfect video (shot sideways) reveals that the dancers wear kerchiefs over their faces in lieu of masks. I offer the blurry one to document their costumes, which are those of Santiagueros in this area of Puebla, and to establish that this dance is still performed in Agua de la Mina, with kerchiefs for masks.
A video from El Carmen in the municipio of Chilcotla, Puebla is in sharp focus and reveals the “Danza de Negritos” in that town, also with kerchiefs instead of masks. El Carmen is about 10 miles south of Agua de la Mina. Masks may have gone out of fashion in Agua de la Mina, although later we will observe that they are still in fashion a little further south in Chichiquila, and that the masks there look just like those in today’s post.
In Changing Faces: Mexican Masks in Transition, an important reference from 1985 that was edited by Lori Jacobson and Donald E. Fritz, I saw my first Moros Chinos (Chinese Moors or Curly Headed Moors) masks on pages 21-24 (plates 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7). There was great variety among these six masks, but just one of them (#4) was seen by the editors and their panel of experts as possibly decorative: the rest appeared to be authentic. There was also a dance photo with two Moros Chinos dancers wearing such masks in Mochitlán, Guerrero, on page 10. I was immediately fascinated by these masks, because some had eyebrows, mustaches, and beards that were rectangular in shape, as if geometric or cubist. I had obtained the book in the fall of 1987 and I immediately spotted certain masks, such as the Moros Chinos, that I hoped to find someday. In fact it took me 10 years to even find one of this type that I liked.
Here is a good dance photo from Mochitlán, Guerrero. I didn’t find a corresponding video.
I purchased this rather diminutive Moro Chino mask from Jaled Muyaes and Estela Ogazón in July of 1997. The town of origin was not documented. The six masks in the Changing Faces book were all about 8 to 10 inches tall and about 5 or 6 inches wide while this one is just 6¾ inches in height, 5¼ inches wide, and 3½ inches in overall depth, as if it was made to be worn by a child. In sharp contrast to these dimensions, there are two Moros Chinos masks in Donald Cordry’s book (page 37, plate 42) that are 38 cm tall (about 15 inches). I have always regarded those as decorative, not only because of the size, but also because they don’t even appear to have vision openings that would allow the wearer to see.
This is a classic Moros Chinos mask in the geometric style, and it is obviously old and worn. I really like this mask!
Today I want to show you three red Moro masks from Guerrero that I purchased as a group from René Bustamante in 1994. The first was said to be from Atliaca, while the other two had no documentation of town of origin. Strangely, there are many dances being performed in Atliaca currently, most of the dancers wear elaborate costumes, but very few wear masks. This appears to be a town where mask use has fallen away. René estimated that these masks dated to the mid-20th century, nearly 70 years ago.
This is a wonderful mask, carved in a vivid abstract design. The eyes are constructed from recycled mirror glass.