In the 1990s a Texas couple purchased some Mexican masks from René Bustamante. René had a Mexican mask store back then in Santa Fe, New Mexico that was named Zitlala. Now the couple are reducing their collection, and they have asked me to show masks that they would like to sell. I agreed, with the understanding that I would describe the masks carefully and honestly. If you are interested in buying any of these masks, then you are invited to contact Chris Hedrick, to pursue this interest. His email address is
I am announcing the availability of these masks, but I am leaving all of the transactional details to you and the seller. I am not an expert re current mask values and prices, although I have a warped view from my observation of undervaluation and bargain hunting on the Internet, so I would prefer to not comment on the price or value of these masks. On the other hand, I will share my concerns regarding authenticity, when this is relevant.
The first mask is interesting and unusual. It was sold to the current owners as an ancient mask from La Parota, Guerrero that was said to have been found in a church, where it had allegedly hung on a wall for hundreds of years, although subsequently the church was destroyed, so one can’t look for it to corroborate this account. Among Mexican mask collectors, these masks have been called Barbones (bearded ones). This Barbon was carved from dense heavy wood, and weighs about three pounds. It is large—9 inches wide and 20 inches tall. The nature of the wood is difficult to assess, since it is more or less entirely covered with black paint that has been highly polished. In small flaked areas the wood appears to have a reddish-brown color. There don’t seem to be any cracks. I wonder if this mask might have been made from Mesquite, a reddish-brown wood that has a long history of use by Mexican cabinet makers, and more specifically it was often used for the doors in churches. Mesquite is hard, dense, and stable. Here is that mask.
Last week I shared images of a Fariseo mask from Queretero. With that post, I completed my review of the masks and related material in my collection. After a little more than five years of weekly posts, I have almost no more material to introduce you to.
As it happens, I recently bought another Rio Mayo mask that is worth sharing today.
After this post I will only have more to tell about Mexican masks if I buy another, or if you send in your questions, comments, or photos, so I welcome any correspondence like that. In the absence of such new material (provided by either you or me), I will maintain this page as a Mexican Dance Masks information resource center, an encyclopedia of sorts.
Here is my latest arrival.
I bought this mask on the basis of a frontal photo like the one just above. I was most impressed by the triangular tubular mouth, which reminded me of mid-century Yaqui masks I had seen, and so I thought this was probably a Yaqui Pascola mask. To my surprise, when I held the mask in my hands I realized that this was a mask from the Rio Mayo area. It has the typical shape of masks from that region. Of course I wondered who might have carved this mask.
On March 2, 2015, I discussed masks used during Semana Santa (Holy Week) in the Mexican States of Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Queretero. There I explained that the characters who threaten Christ in these passion plays can go by a number of different names, including Fariseos, Judios, Judas dancers, Centurions, Robenos (Romans), and Soldados. In Queretero they are called Fariseos. Here is the link to that blog entry.
Years later I realized that I had overlooked a remarkable Fariseo mask from San Bartolomé Aguas Calientes (or San Bartolo de los Baños), Queretero, a small town near the Queretero/Ganajuato border (in this case, baños refers to natural hot springs—baths). I will feature the omitted mask in this week’s post. I bought this one from Jaled Muyaes and Estela Ogazón in August, 2007; I believe that it was probably made in the 1970s and that they collected it in the 1980s. In the United States, we would call this a ghoul mask. I will remind you again, given the extreme drama of this mask, that the wearers of the Fariseo masks are devout Christians. who portray grotesque evil doers to dramatize Christ’s triumphal ascent.
On a scale for grotesque and repulsive, this mask is over the top. For example, one eyeball is dangling from its socket.
Some of the Fariseos (or Pariseros) in Sonora and Sinaloa carry drums, and these are often decorated. Sometimes the drums carry Christian images, but at other times there are cartoon or even erotic images instead. This practice is in sharp contrast to the drums of the Yaqui Pascolas and Chapayecas, which are usually undecorated. In 1988 there was a show—Behind The Mask In Mexico—that was held at the International Museum of Folklore in Santa Fe, New Mexico, before going on to other sites. A book of the same name mirrored the show in many aspects, and this was edited by Janet Esser. In the show, but not in the book, there was a Mayo Judio drum with a risque image of a female, which interested me because it seemed related to the emerging trend of Sinaloa Judios portraying themselves as women. Although an image of that drum did not appear in the book, Ross Crumrine did mention such a drum in his essay in the book—”Ritual Mediation of the Life-Death Opposition: The Meaning of Mayo Parisero Lenten Masks”—describing a drum with “a nude pin-up girl wearing high heels (p.86).” I hasten to add that such an image would be abnormal, even offensive, within normal Mayo experience, but tolerated as an expression of otherness by the Fariseos or Judios.
In my collection I have two decorated Mayo drums, and these will be the focus of today’s post. I’ll start with the most impressive example, which was made by Rolando Castillo of La Colonia Union in Sonora, so this is a Rio Mayo drum. Tom Kolaz had collected it from a Judio (or Parisero) in April, 2011, and I obtained it from Tom a year later. It is 14½ inches in diameter and 3 inches in thickness.
“He shall reign FOREVER (Handel’s Messiah).” This drum reminds us that the men who portray the evil deeds of the Judios are devout Christians who serve in this performance role in order to glorify God. Crumrine states, “The image of Christ crucified is the patron saint or supernatural guardian of the parisero sodality (p 86).”