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.

Continue Reading

La Danza del Torito in Guanajuato

In recent weeks I presented Feo masks from Paso Ancho, Michoacán whose wearers spar with bulls. Then I introduced you to what is probably a similar dance in Charo, Michoacán. The Torito dances of Guanajuato are perhaps the most dramatic example of this genre of dances in which a bull interacts with provocatively behaving actors (Feos). In today’s post I will show some older masks from this Guanajuato version, even including a body mask worn by the Torito dancer.

Here is a Youtube ™ video of the Torito dance in San Juan de los Lagos that was performed by a dance group from Silao, Michoacán. This is a balanced performance, featuring excellent music combined with highly coordinated dancing. It is a pleasure to watch.


One of the characters in the dance is the wife of the Hacendado (the hacienda owner). She can be called Maringuía or La Bonita. In this instance (in the Silao video), she is apparently the relatively dignified female wearing a long white skirt. I have in my collection an older Maringuía mask that I purchased, along with a Hacendado mask, from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in 1989. This pair had originally been collected by Jaled Muyaes and Estela Ogazón in the 1960s or 70s. Here they are—El Hacendado and La Bonita from the Romita/Silao area of Guanajuato. Later I will show them in greater detail.

I feel like digressing briefly about my admired friends, Robin and Barbara Cleaver, who bought and sold ethnographic material from Mexico and Guatemala, kept some things for a time that they greatly liked, and then they would sell even these treasures for reasonable prices to raise money for other projects. When I occasionally had the opportunity to buy such material, I felt truly blessed. Such was the case when I purchased the Hacendado and La Bonita masks. Barbara had such admiration and fondness for the artistry of this pair that she had given them a special name- “the Picassos.” They have been on my bedroom wall for the last 28 years, because I like them too

Continue Reading

Perro Masks From Cuanajo, Michoacan

Today, in my continuing series of posts about dance masks from the Mexican state of Michoacán, I will present Perro (dog) masks from Cuanajo, a Purépecha town near Patzcuaro, Michoacán. In that town there was a local tradition in the mid-20th century of dancers wearing dog masks during Carnaval (Mardi Gras). This was apparently a custom that later died out, because contemporary YouTube™ videos of Carnaval there don’t seem to reveal any dancers portraying dogs. In her book, Tigers, Devils, and the Dance of Life: Masks of Mexico (1999, page 88), Barbara Mauldin included a photo of two of these Perro masks from Cuanajo that date to about 1965. I will show you three more from my collection.

I purchased this mask and the next from Robin and Barbara Cleaver, of Santa Fe, in 1987. Indeed, these were among my very first Mexican masks.

A distinctive design aspect of the Cuanajo dogs is their ears. These three also have virtually the same dimensions.

Continue Reading

More Feos from the Toritos Dance

In last week’s post I showed a group of Feo masks from a Toritos dance in Paso Ancho, Michoacán, including one with an outrageously oversized nose that I purchased in 1987. I included a recent video of Paso Ancho Feos misbehaving, to demonstrate that one of those dancers wore a mask with just such a nose. Today I will show three more masks from Paso Ancho with oversized phallic noses—a trio of Feos. I consider these masks to be fabulous, so I was overjoyed to be able to buy them from Kelly Mechling (in New Orleans), back in 1994. He had obtained them from Jaled Muyaes and Estela Ogazón. Jaled actually had a photo hanging in his living room that was taken by some famous photographer, which showed him (Jaled) looking at one of these phallic masks that was displayed on a wall.

Then I will follow with two clown masks from nearby Charo, Michoacán that were used in a similar dance in that town—El Viejo y El Toro (the Old Man and the Bull). Estela Ogazón had included a photo of such a Viejo mask in her book, Máscaras (1981, plate 34), and documented the name of the dance. Although one does find contemporary videos on YouTube™ of elaborate straw mat bulls in Charo, one does not find videos that show these latter masks in current use. They are apparently no longer in fashion.

Here is the first of the trio of phallic Feos.

The nose has the form of a snake.

Continue Reading

Feos From Paso Ancho Michoacán

In recent months I have described masks used in Purépecha (Tarascan) communities of Michoacán. In this post and one that follows I will shift to masks from a traditionally Matlatzincan Indian community in Eastern Michoacán, Paso Ancho.

Paso Ancho lies about thirty miles east of Pátzquaro in a fairly remote area. At some time in the late 20th century a paved road was constructed to connect this town to the county seat to the north, Tzitzio, and thence to Charo and then Morelia, the capital of Michoacán. This road opened Paso Ancho to the wider world, permitting Jaled Muyaes and Estela Ogazón access to this interesting, traditional, and previously hidden area. There they collected the five masks that we will examine in today’s post.

There is a traditional masked dance in this region, La Danza del Torito. The bull in this dance has traditionally been called a torito de petate or “straw mat bull,” meaning a bull effigy constructed from a wooden frame that has been covered with a woven sleeping mat. This bull is a body mask, which is animated by a dancer who runs while carrying the frame on his shoulders. The dance features the interaction of the bull with a group of clowns who function as feos (uglies), by performing comic and occasionally obscene behaviors. Here is a recent YouTube™ video from Paso Ancho that reveals the persistence of this dance and its masked dancers. Their Torito appears to be covered with painted fabric.


I obtained most of these masks in the late 1980s from Robin and Barbara Cleaver. All five had probably been collected by Jaled and Estela 10 or 20 years earlier. As you may notice, there are very similar masks in the video. The first is a human faced mask with a long phallic nose and exaggerated lips.

Continue Reading

Corcoví and Tecolote Masks from the Danza de los Viejos

I first encountered Corcoví masks in Donald Cordry’s book—Mexican Masks (1980, page 2, plate 3). One of these was obviously old and worn and it was said to have been collected in 1935. Unfortunately Cordy provided no explanation of the associated dance. In a recent book, Máscaras Mexicanas: Simbolismos Velados, published in Mexico City in 2015 by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia (INAH), there is a “Korkobi” mask with the following explanation—”En las tierras altas de Michoacán, el korkobi de la Danza de los Huehues representa a un ave nocturna a su vez simboliza el Sol y el dia. En la leyenda de María Lapsi, la korkobi es el ave que apareció de entre unos matorrales, sacudiendo las alas, después de beñarse en el estranque oculto en el bosque (page 260). [In the highlands of Michoacán, the Korkobi/Corcovi from the dance of the Old Ones represents a nocturnal bird with a face that symbolizes the Sun and the day. In the legend of María Lapsi , the korkobi is a bird that appears from the underbrush, flapping its wings, and then is swallowed up by the darkness , a hidden stranger in the forest.]

A second “korkobi” mask on page 261 of the INAH catalogue is misidentified in my opinion, and can be found also on page 49 (plate 42) of Moya Rubio’s book, Máscaras: la Otre Cara/ Masks: The Other Face (third edition, 1988), where it is described as a Moro from the state of Guerrero. To my eye, this appears to be a decorative mask.

Here is a Corcovi mask that, although unmarked, is easily recognized as the work of Victoriano Salgado Morales of Uruapan, Michoacán. I bought this mask on EBay™ in 2010.

The more recent of the two Corcoví masks in Cordry’s book looks very much like this one.

Continue Reading

More Viejitos Masks

Last week we looked at Viejito masks from Cherán and Uruapan, Michoacán, masks with amusing and highly stylized features. Just as we have seen with Curpite and Negritos masks, those used by Viejito dancers also demonstrate a range of designs. The differences are sufficiently pronounced to have misled dealers and collectors to label some Viejito masks as being from entirely different dances. Part of the problem has been that modern carvers have been more ambitious, creating fancier masks. The ready availability of YouTube™ documentation, when combined with photos from the few available illustrated books, allow one to at least begin to sort out this mystery.

Today’s first mask, which I bought from René Bustamante in 1994, listed this provenance on the tag—”Uricho, Mich.-Dia del levanta y niento del Niño 2/2.” The Christian feast of Candlemas, also called “The Presentation of the Infant Jesus,” occurs each year on February 2, 20 days after Christmas day. In the past, February 2 was actually considered to be the first day of the New Year. Searching on YouTube™ and in Calendario de Fiestas Populares (1988), I did not find any references to masked dances in San Francisco Uricho. The second and third masks, also obtained from René, were said to be from Purépero de Echáiz, and for whatever reason, I thought of all three as Españoles (Spaniards). One of these is obviously by the same hand as the first, while the other is only slightly different, as if from the same tradition but another carver. The Calendario reference book did confirm that Viejitos dance in Purépuro, but there was no listing for Viejitos at Candlemas. That reference book did confirm that many towns in Michoacán celebrate Candlemas with some sort of fiesta, and a YouTube video from Sicuicho, Michoacán showed Viejitos dancing on February 2 while wearing masks similar to the third in today’s group. Therefore I conclude that these first three masks were worn by Viejito dancers in that area of Michoacán. San Francisco Uricho and Sicuicho are about 100 miles apart, while Purépero de Echáiz lies in between, about 60 miles from either one. The link that follows features Viejitos dancing on Feb 2, 2017 (Candlemas) in Sicuicho. Note that Maringuilla is represented in this town by three unmasked women, rather than by men wearing female masks.


Further review of the Purepecha Masks 2002 Catalogue reveals that smiling Caucasian faces with golden hair (but lacking relief carved ears) can represent other dance characters, such as Kings, “Black Men,” Tare Andari, Monarcos, and Hermitaños, depending on the town.

Here is the mask with the tag linking it to Candlemas in San Francisco Uricho. In general, it seems that about half of the Viejitos in Michoacán have what we might call this “realistic” style, while the other half have the highly exaggerated style that we saw in last week’s post. What they have in common is a broad grin

This type usually has golden hair, mustache, and beard, while the other style of mask lacks hair altogether and requires the attachment of a wig.

Continue Reading

El Danza de los Viejitos

As I had explained in my post of September 18, 2017, the Viejitos dance is an alternate form of the Danza de los Viejos, or Curpites. The Viejitos portray “little old men”, with wide grins, stooping posture, and walking sticks. Paradoxically, boys often perform in this role, portraying these elders with considerable energy. Maringuilla also dances with the Viejitos. These figures dance in apposition to the Ugly Maringuilla and the Viejitos Feos, the “uglies.”

Because I will be showing several masks from Turícuaro, Michoacán, I will begin with a Youtube ™ video of Viejitos from that town. In the middle section Maringuilla dances. The photographic quality of this video is only fair, but the performance is so much more authentic than many others on the internet that are being performed by folkloric companies.


Today’s first mask was collected in Michoacán by Dinah Gaston. I purchased it from her in 2000.

Janet Brody Esser included a photo of a nearly identical mask in her 1984 book, Máscaras Ceremoniales de los Tarascos de la Sierra de Michoacán (page 109, figura 32.) Esser stated that the mask in her book was carved by José María Ponce of “Torícuaro,” [Turícuaro] Michoacán, in about 1970, she took this dance photo in Patzcuaro on July 8, 1971, and the dancer wearing this mask was from Janitzio, Michoacán, an island in Lake Patzcuaro. Turícuaro is about 50 miles to the west of Janitzio, demonstrating how these masks travel. The Ponce mask has virtually identical features to this one from Dinah Gaston, including the hair, eyes, nose, cheeks, mouth, and chin. Therefore I am attributing this first mask to José María Ponce of Turícuaro. Isn’t it splendid!

Continue Reading

More Blackmen Masks from Michoacán

This week I will show some additional Negrito or Blackman masks from Michoacán.

In her chapter about the Dance of the Blackmen, in Behind the Mask in Mexico, Esser (1988, pp. 107-141) reported that there was a history of Blackmen dancing with wooden masks in the town of Sevina (p. 122), but that the dance was no longer performed there with such masks at the time of her research (1970-1975). In my collection are three wooden Blackman masks from Sevina that I obtained from Jaled Muyaes and Estela Ogazón, in 1997 and 1999. They had undoubtedly collected these masks in the 1960s or 70s, but obviously the three must have already been old and retired from use by that time.

Here is the one I bought first, in February 1997. It is the most refined of the three. I call your attention to the unusual shape of the mouth. Also note that there is a hole that might have held a representation of a cigarette. The chin is knob-shaped.

Long ago this mask was painted black, but it seems that that paint has nearly worn off. There are just three holes around the forehead.

Continue Reading

Masks of the Blackmen

Janet Brody Esser was the editor of a superlative book about Mexican dance masks—Behind the Mask in Mexico (1988). In that volume she authored a chapter about dances and masks in the Mexican state of Michoacán that feature dance personages called Negritos, or “Blackmen” (pages 106-141). In my post of September 18, 2017 I included a mask from that dance of a Negrita, a female mask with a black face. In today’s post some of the masks have unquestionably male faces, while others cause one to wonder about the intended gender. I will start with a pair of Blackman masks in the style of Cherán, Michoacán. I purchased this pair from Jaled Muyaes and Estela Ogazón in 1998.

The front piece of the headdress is made of metal, probably recycled tin. A mirror and strings of yellow beads are mounted on this plate. The plate itself is attached to the crown of a woven straw hat that is covered with cloth, and decorated with small cones of colored foil. Tinsel and ribbons hang from this headdress.

Continue Reading