Catrin Masks From Tlaxcala, Mexico

In Donald Cordry’s book—Mexican Masks (1980, page 26, figure 29)—we see nine Carnival masks from the Mexican State of Tlaxcala, three of leather, while the other six were finely carved from wood. The dance figure who wears such a mask is often referred to as a Catrin, a word that means  “dandy.” The wearer(s) can also be called a Paragüero (umbrella holder) or a Cuadrilla (gang or crew). Under such names the wearers of these masks dance during Carnaval.

Three of the wooden masks in Figure 29 had eyelids that could be opened or shut by the dancer pulling a string. On page 104, plate 147 of Cordry’s book, we find a photo of Carlos Reyes Acoltzi, of Tlatempan, Tlaxcala, with two of his sons, taken in 1971. The caption for that image states that Carlos was a santero, a carver of saints, and a mascarero as well (mask carver). Carlos had carved four of the wooden masks shown in figure 29, including the three with mechanical eyelids.

The religious orders in Mexico, such as the Dominicans, the Augustinians, and the Jesuits, trained Indians in their congregations to be the artisans and craftsmen. Thus Indians were taught to create the wooden statues portraying God, Angels, Devils, and the European Christian saints for display in their churches. It was natural for these santeros to become the makers of dance masks used in religious fiestas, and for those carvers to create masks with the beautiful faces of the saints or the dreadful faces of the Diablos. This practice continues to the present day, and I provided several examples of Santeros who were also mask makers in my book—Mexican Masks and Puppets: Master Carvers of the Sierra de Puebla.

Today we will look at six of these beautiful Catrin masks. I will begin with a pair that appeared in my post of August 18, 2014, to illustrate the level of quality of the traditional masks in Cordry’s book (in contrast to other masks there that were invented, falsely labeled, and therefor “decorative”). I had purchased these masks from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in 2000. They believed that the two were carved in the 1930s or 1940s, and that their doll’s eye movements had been imported from Germany in the 1930s.

These Catrin masks have the beautiful faces of saints. The paint on the face of this mask is obviously worn. If the string that hangs under the beard is pulled, then the eyelids will close.

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Chivo Masks From Guerrero

In The Eye of the Sun:Mexican fiestas, published in 1997, there is a nice photo of masked dancers performing the Danza de los Chivos (goats) in Zitlala, Guerrero. Such photos are otherwise uncommon in mask books, but increasingly available on the Internet. Today I will show two Chivo masks. Each is unusual for having horns painted or carved in relief on the mask plus a long sisal headress with an attached pair of goat horns—two sets of horns.

A YouTube™ video of Chivos from Quechultenango, a town near Tixtla and Mochitlán, reveals a variety of characters, including Chivos with horned headdresses but also Diablas or Diablitas (female devils) wearing the same headdresses with horns (see discussion of Diablas in my post of December 4, 2017). So, dances which I had regarded as centering on Diablas are at least sometimes actually named for the Chivos, who may be Diablos called by another name?

Here is another video, apparently also from Quechultenago. Several of these dancers are wearing Chivo masks with horns along with a sisal headdress with a second set of horns.

This third link is from Zitlala. These Chivos have prominent horns on their headdresses while they lack representations of horns on their masks.

Here is the first of these mask/headdress combinations. (231). I bought this mask from John Kania and Joe Ferrin of Santa Fe in 1994. It was said to be from Tlapehuala, Guerrero.

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Pescador Masks From Guerrero

In the area of Guerrero that lies along the Pacific coast we find the Danza de los Pescadores (fisherman). Today I will show five Pescador masks from my collection.

The first of these illustrates some common features of these masks. They are usually painted black, and their faces have what appear to be bloody wounds. There is usually a cigarette hanging from one corner of the mouth. I bought this mask from Jaled Muyaes and Estela Ogazón in 1998. My mask collector friend John Levin observes that most Pescador masks have painted rather than carved wounds.

Pescador masks don’t commonly bear an image of a skull and crossbones. In this case that design was painted before some of the bloodstains, so it may be an original feature. Then again, there seem to be earlier layers of paint under the surface layer, betrayed by flashes of turquoise or green.

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Tlacololero or Pescador Mask?

Just when I thought that I had shown you all of my Tlacololero masks from Guerrero, I found one that could be another Tlacololero or possibly a Pescador. It seems important to show you this one, as it is the only Tlacololero-style mask in my collection that still has its sheepskin wig. In my post of January 8, 2018, I had shown three Tlacololero masks that had formerly had sheepskin wigs, but these wigs were destroyed by moths. I have been kicking myself for not at least measuring those ruined pieces of hide so that replacements could be made in the future, and here is one that I can actually measure.

I bought this mask from Kelly Mecheling, of New Orleans, in 1995. It was simply labeled  as a “Negrito.”

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Tlacololero Masks With Unusually Shaped Noses

Once again this week I will examine a pair of Tlacololero masks with unusual, but somewhat related designs; they blend nose and mustache elements in an unexpected manner. I call these noses “geometric,” for want of a better term. Probably the best label for the first of these masks would be “surreal.” In a search of the Internet I found only one photo of another mask like the first. That one was said to be from Tixtla, Guerrero.

I purchased this first mask from René Bustamante in 1994. He reported that it was found in la Palmita, Guerrero, a place that is very small, and far away from the area where Tlacaloleros usually dance. I obtained the second mask in the same year from the Cavin-Morris gallery in New York City; it was said to be a Tlacololero from Zitlala, Guerrero. Here is the first.

Obviously this is a rather primitive mask, with its relief carved nose that twists around to one side as if it becomes a one-sided mustache. The paint is also unusual, with multicolored spots. The carving of this mask is somewhat crude. However, the overall design is powerful and striking, and reminds me of images of god impersonators in the Codex documents, such as Codex Nutall. So, although this is a very unusual mask, it continues a theme from recent weeks, of god imagery.

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Tlacololero Masks With Exaggerated Noses, Like Those Of Ehecatl

Today we will again begin with two masks of similar appearance. What these two have in common is a dramatically oversized nose, reminiscent of pre-Columbian images of Tlaloc or Ehecatl, the god of wind and rain, who was often depicted with a large bird’s beak in place of his mouth. Each also has a small blowing mouth. A third mask may be another example of this type, although a broken nose has made this less obvious. A fourth mask of similar layout in terms of the eyes and vision openings is distinguished by oversized ears and a remarkable mouth, not obviously blowing  but wrinkled instead; it reminds me of the rueful expression often depicted on a well-known cartoon figure, Charlie Brown™.

As I noted in an earlier post, scholars have suggested a connection between the Tlacololeros performance and other regional jaguar hunting dances with long standing regional indigenous beliefs and ceremonial practices about the weather. Briefly, these dances seem to reflect a tradition of petitioning for rain. If you are fluent in Spanish, then you may read more about this in a recent book by Rosalba Diaz Vázquez—El ritual de la lluvia en la tierra se los hombres-tigre [The Rain Petitioning Ceremony in the Region of Jaguar-Men], published by Conaculta in 2003.

I obtained the first of these from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in 1987. The rim at the top is recessed to support a sheepskin wig, but this was long gone when I bought the mask.

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Tlacololero Masks With Blowing Mouths

Today we will look at an unusual pair of Tlacololero masks that have blowing mouths—mouths shaped like funnels. Then we will examine another wonderful mask that is only somewhat similar. Next week we will see other Tlacololero masks that have smaller blowing mouths, but along with prominent noses that remind one of the those oversized bird’s beaks on Mesoamerican carved images of Tlaloc, the god of wind and rain. It is possible that all of these “wind” masks are related to weather shamanism. Here is the first one with a blowing mouth. I bought this mask from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in June of 1988, when they held a remarkable show and sale in their Santa Fe gallery—Folklorico. It came with a limited provenance, a Tlacololero from the Mexican state of Guerrero.

There is no mistaking the blowing expression of this mask.

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Rastreros And Another Red Faced Tlacololero

In recent weeks I have shared typical older masks from the Tlacaloleros dance; I imagine that they date to the 1960s or 70s. Today I will introduce other Tlacololero masks that are more unusual in their designs or styles, although they may have been commonly used in the past. I will present these treasured examples in small groups, to savor them. In my experience, masks like the first two are said to be “Rastreros” (trackers). These two have faces that are painted red and black. The third, which would have been worn by some other dance character, has a vivid red face.

I purchased the first of these Rastreros from Spencer Throckmorton of New York City in 1995.

The hair is attached to the face with some kind of glue.

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Los Tlacololeros II

Last week I introduced Tlaololero masks that are typical of this dance, and this week I will show a few more of those.

On page 243 of his book—Mexican Masks—Donald Cordy included a typical Tlacololero mask that had been collected in Ayutla, Guerrero. It was 29 cm. tall (about 11 inches). On page 103 of that book Cordry shared a photo that was taken in 1972 of Ruperto Abrahán, a maskmaker in Tixtla, with two Tlacololero masks in this style that he had carved, and on page 101 there is a photo of carver Cruz Teodoro (Guerrero, 1931) with another of these. In the Agenda 1998 datebook that was published by Estela Ogazón we find a stained rather than painted example from Chichihualco that measured just over 13 inches in height.

On the other hand, on page 173 Cordry also included photos of six Tlacololero masks from Almolonga, Guerrero that he described as more finely carved and in his opinion older. These masks are remarkable in appearance because their faces are divided into zones that are painted in contrasting colors. Also they are larger than expected—about 14 or 15 inches tall. Jaled Muyaes told me that he regarded those masks as decorative and inauthentic (see posts of August 2014—

Here is a mask in this style that I purchased from Jaled Muyaes and Estela Ogazón in 2001. Like most of the masks in today’s post, this one came with little provenance, just the name of the dance and the state of Guerrero. However the style of painting, with the three red lines over the nose and flanking the eyes, suggests that this is a mask from Tixtla, and probably from one of the Abrahán family of carvers. This one is 12 inches tall.

This mask was carefully carved but with a simple design.

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Los Tlacololeros

In the Mexican state of Guerrero, there is a dance drama—los Tlacololeros—in which a group of farmers hunt a dangerous jaguar. Such dances are apparently ancient. We find an area of jaguar hunting performances along the Costa Chica, the “little coast” where Guerrero and Oaxaca meet the Pacific ocean, and extending to Chiapas and Guatemala. These dances occur in a series of contiguous Native American cultures, such as the Nahua, the Amuzgos, the Mixtecs, and a variety of Mayan cultures. The Tlacololeros dance survives in an area known as the Tlapaneca, which was traditionally occupied by the Tlapanec Indians. According to Danzas y bailes traditionales del estado de Guerrero (Mexico, 2005, pages 66-84), this dance presently persists in the following towns—Chilpancingo, Chichihuaco, Tixtla, Apango, Mochitlán, Zumpango, Tecoanapa, Ayutla, Zitlala, Chilapa, and others. You may already be aware of the considerable variation in mask styles between these many towns, and Tlacalolero masks, large and small, will illustrate this. Over the next few weeks I will show you some real beauties. Some nearby towns dance the Tecuanes dance instead; there is considerable overlap in terms of mask designs.

Here is a YouTube™video from Petaquillas, Guerrero, a town that is in the municipio of Chilpancingo; the two towns are just 6 miles apart. Some of the Tlacololeros have black human faced masks while others have red, white, or gray faces along with a standardized costume. There is a magnificent Tigre(jaguar) and a dog that looks like a very mean wolf. The human faced dancers portray a number of roles such as farmer-hunters and a Rastrero, or “tracker.”

In this next video, from Chichihualco, all of the masks are black. I include this one to share the accompanying text, which is interesting in its explanation that this dance appears to be a surviving form of an ancient supplication for rain.

Now here are some Tigre masks from these towns to get us started. I originally showed you these in October, 2014. The Tlacololeros pretend to hunt such jaguars. The first, carved from wood, is in the style of Tixtla.

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