El Misterio De Los Negoes

Last week I  began with a Moro mask from the Mexican State of Puebla that had a black face, followed by other Moros y Cristianos masks that were not black, and apparently depicted Christian figures. All four had similar features. One of those was apparently worn by a Christian figure in a variant of the Danza de Moros y Cristianos, called “El Misterio de los Negros.” The black-faced mask was not explicitly identified with that dance, although it could easily have been used with the other one. In the course of my writing about these masks, I realized that I owned a group of three Black Moor masks from neighboring states that also appeared to have been used in El Misterio de los Negros. None of these are from Puebla, but from Veracruz, Guerrero, and the State of Mexico. I must confess that my information about the existence of this dance drama is limited. The first of today’s masks is specifically labeled on the back as being from this dance, and Jaled Muyaes told me of others, although he said nothing about this dance in his published writings about masks.

I bought this one in 2008 from the estate of my friend, Gary Collison. Although the tag said it was from Guerrero, this is the mask with writing on the back that identifies it as a mask from El Mysterio de los Negros, Veracruz. It is a handsome elegant mask.

The face has a very simple design.

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Four Puebla Moros

Today I will present four Moro masks from the State of Puebla that share similar features, as if all were by the same hand or from the same local tradition.

I don’t believe that I have ever shown you the first of these. I did show you the second in my post of September 15, 2014, along with the third mask, and I featured the fourth in my post of May 18, 2015. The point of today’s post is to put the four side by side. Unfortunately I still do not know the name of the carver(s).

I purchased the first from John Kania and Joe Ferrin of Santa Fe, in 1996. It was said to be from Chichiquila, Puebla. A nearly identical mask in the Museo National de la Máscara:Catálogo (p. 80) is said to be from San Pablito, Municipio Pahuatlán, Puebla.

As we have already seen in earlier posts, sometimes Moors are depicted with black faces—”Blackamoors.” The literal meaning of Blackamoor is “Black African,” but this word would appear to reflect the confusion experienced by Europeans from their early contacts with Africa and its peoples. In contrast, two weeks ago I showed characters from the “Negritos” dance who all had Caucasian faces. As I have repeatedly noted, a common reason for such confusing labels in Mexican dance dramas is that Mexican Indian dancers seldom portray themselves, instead they generally disguise themselves as others; from this place of anonymity and obfuscation the dancers feel free to address otherwise dangerous or forbidden social commentary.

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Three Red Moros from Puebla

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.

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Negros/Santiagueros From the Mexican State of Puebla

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.


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Two Moros Chinos Masks From Guerrero, Plus A Very Large Moro

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!

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Three Red Moro Masks From Guerrero

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.

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Malinche from the Tenochtli Dance in Guerrero

In November 2008 I purchased an attractive old female mask on Ebay™. The seller described it as a Zoque mask from the Mexican state of Chiapas. I was intrigued by that description and after winning the auction I asked the seller for more information. There was no reply. I concluded that this was one of those familiar situations where a seller is guessing about the identity of an object in order to pitch it. I like it a lot, whether correctly identified or not, but what is it really, I wondered. Then and now, a search of books and the Web did not reveal such a mask from Chiapas.

Ten years later, I decided to hazard a guess for myself. Here is the mask.

This is an old and heavily worn mask, judging from the patina on the front and the back. In general, it looks like a mask of Malinche from a Conquest dance in Guerrero. For example it has applied ears, something one often sees on masks in Guerrero. Also, this is a paint color that can be found on Tenochtli masks, a style of Conquest mask. In Donald Cordry’s book, Mexican Masks, there are dance photos and some masks from la Danza de Tonochtli, which demonstrate this resemblance.  For example, plate 19 on page 16 shows a photo of a very old female mask of Abuela Teresa (Grandmother Theresa) from San Miguel Oapan, Guerrero. Other dance characters in this portrayal of conflict between Spanish forces and Native Americans include Cortez, Indian kings, and Malinche, Teresa’s daughter. The paint is entirely worn off of Teresa’s face, and there is no trace of red pigment. However, on page 34, plate 38, Cordry includes a photo of red faced Malinche masks from the Tenochtli dance; “both are painted red to signify lust and wantonness,” said Cordry. Then again, this color may simple be intended to identify an Indian character. A dance photo from Acatlán, Guerrero, on page 220 includes a pink-faced Malinche, who is wearing a feather headdress and carrying a bow and arrow.

You may recall that Malinche is sometimes viewed in Mexico as a traitor , because she helped Cortez to defeat the Aztec Indians, even though she was an Indian herself. This attitude leads Mexicans to portray her with disrespect. Cordry’s explanation of the color may reflect this attitude.

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Four More Moro Masks From the Mexican State of Guerrero

When I was gathering together Moro masks from the State of Mexico, I was surprised to discover that there were all these Moors from Guerrero and Puebla that I had never shared with you. Today I have four more from Guerrero, and no two alike. The first of these is unusual because it is entirely black, except for white facial hair. I did include another black mask with the Archareos, two weeks ago , as those were all from Colotepec, Guerrero. I bought this one (and the next two) from René Bustamante in 1994. It was said to be from Atzacoaloya, Guerrero, but this mask does not show up in videos from that town or from the County Seat of Chilapa de Álvarez, so I don’t know where it fits in.

This is a dramatic and effective mask. It does have a Moor’s mouth, anxious or fearful. Maybe it was worn by a Moorish leader. We should recall that when the Spanish missionaries introduced the Dance of the Moors and Christians, so many centuries ago, the Indians of the Americas would have had no experience with Islamic peoples. They would only have known what the Spanish told them. In this context, we find that the Moorish Leaders in this dance are named for a variety of enemies of Christendom, including Mohammed and various Roman Emperors. But how should these be depicted? In traditional images of the Three Kings in the Christmas tradition, one of the kings is often depicted with dark skin; perhaps such exotic images contributed.


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Another Moro Mask, Possibly From the Mexican State of Guerrero

In today’s post I will discuss a single remarkable mask. I purchased this from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in 1995, but they had only recently obtained it from Spencer Throckmorton, and Spencer reported that it was previously owned by a famous 20th century Mexican collector and antiquarian, Raul Kampfer. It appeared to be a mask depicting a Moorish leader or king, perhaps it depicts Pontius Pilate, Herod, or the Emperor Tiberius, and it was probably used in the Moors and Christians dance drama (the typical frowning mouth of a Moor is apparent). What was not known was the place in Mexico where this mask was carved and danced.

Over the last 20 years I have searched through many books, looking for a mask of this unusual appearance, and I have only found one similar example in a dance photo— En El Mundo de la Máscara (page 58, left), “Danzante con máscara  de rey, Sierra de Puebla” (dancer wearing a mask of a king). That mask has a single-lobed beard flanked by enormous sagging ears, so that it resembles this one in appearance, or at least more closely than any other mask I have seen. Note that the Sierra de Puebla is conventionally thought to include parts of the Mexican States of Puebla, San Luis Potosí, and Veracruz, but used loosely it can also refer to the Pacific highlands of Guerrero as well. To my eye, this looks like a mask from Guerrero or the State of Mexico, although one can find such finely carved ears in Guerrero or Puebla. Obviously it is very old, and we may never find another that has survived.

The design of this mask is so elaborate. The fancy hair, for example, reminds me of Colonial carved wooden images from Mexico or Guatemala of el Padre Eterno (Eternal Father, or God). But of course it calls such images to mind, because such a refined mask would have necessarily been carved by a santero, drawing on imagery borrowed from images of God and the Saints. Here is an image of God from Guatemala.

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Three Archareos From Guerrero

Donald Cordry introduced many  collectors to Archareo (archer)masks in his well known book, Mexican Masks (1981, pp 232-4). The Archareos perform a variation of the Conquest dance, which is of course itself modeled on the Moros y Cristianos. All these dances have the common theme of Spanish Christians versus some opponent, such as Moorish outsiders or indigenous peoples.

Victor José Moya Rubio included two Archareo traditional wooden masks and headdresses, one from Colotepec and the other from Pueblo Viejo, in Máscaras: La Otra Cara de México/ Masks: The Other Face of Mexico, Plates 54 and 55, on page 63. He also showed Archareo masks from San Martin Teotihuacan, in the State of Mexico, where Santiago wears a mask cast in lead and the Archareos wear masks made from painted and folded felt hats. A beautiful Archareo mask with headdress from Pueblo Viejo, Guerrero decorates the cover of El Tierra y El Paraíso, a catalogue of masks in the collection of Rafael Coronel (1993, pp. 20-21). In Changing Faces: Mexican Masks in Transition,on page 69 (plate 102) there is a classic Red-faced Archareo mask that has been paired with the white headdress of Santiago or one of the Christians (provenance unknown), and on page 59 there is another of those Santiago masks cast in metal. These metal masks include headdress elements that are part of the casting. Here  is a link to a photo of a mask in this metal style. This mask, however, is virtually identical to another in Mask Arts of Mexico, by Ruth Lechuga and Chloë Sayer, plate 96 on page 69, which the authors state is constructed from fiberglass and resin, plus tin for the headdress.


Today I will share three traditional wooden Archareo masks like the one from “Cacalotepec” in Cordry, the ones from Pueblo Viejo in  La Tierra y El Paraíso, and those in Moya Rubio’s book, along with three headdresses. These masks and headdresses were collected in Guerrero by a picker or “runner” for Robin and Barbara Cleaver. I am uncertain whether the runner had recorded which mask went with which headdress. It seems obvious that the white “Christian” masks would have been worn with white headdresses bearing a cross and the red Moro masks would be worn with other headdresses that lacked a cross. It only later became apparent to me that there was variety in the white masks and their headdresses.

In May, 1988, Robin and Barbara Cleaver had sold me a handsome pair of Archareo masks, one a white faced Christian mask with a headdress topped by a cross, and the other a maroon mask with no cross on the headdress. Here is the white mask.

In the years that followed, I compared this mask to a few other Archareo Christian masks from this area, and realized that mine was unusual, in that it had an oval goatee that framed the usual snouted mouth. Indeed, it has an elegant abstract goatee; I never saw another one like it, over nearly 30 years time. I concluded that this mask, bearded among so many that are beardless, might represent Santiago. To state this in another way, Mexican Santiago masks in general usually have beards, while most Archareo masks do not.

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