Archive for the 'Mask' Category

Object: Maya Mask

Figure 1    Maya "Wolf" Mask from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Maya “Wolf” Mask from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1992/3/8
Mask
Cakchiquel (Kakchiquel) Maya
Chimaltenango: San Andrés Itzapa, Guatemala
Materials: Painted wood

This wooden face mask has been painted red, with green polka dots, black eyes, and black and white detail behind the ears. This particular mask shows a face with an open mouth displaying carved wooden teeth. The eyes of the mask have been made by carving holes and surrounding the eyes with black paint. The eyebrows are also painted black, and the ears are carved and painted just above the eyebrows. On the sides of the mask are wooden flaps painted black and white, a striking color difference from the mostly red background and spotted green on the rest of the mask. On the forehead of the mask, there is a small hole, probably for hanging the mask.

The mask is sized to fit on a human face. It is 8 ¾ inches long, 7 inches wide, and 4 ¼ inches thick. It was accessioned into the Sam Noble Museum’s Ethnology Collection with only a few scratches in the paint on the nose, forehead, and ears – overall, in good condition. When accessioned, it was determined that the animalistic features on the mask were meant to resemble a wolf. It seems like an unsuitable animal inspiration for the Chimaltenango region of Guatemala (where wolves are not native), possibly meaning that it takes its likeness from another predator.

Instead of a wolf, which does not live in the region this mask was made, the mask may actually be meant to resemble a jaguar. Jaguars have always had important significance to Maya culture, playing an integral role in the Maya creation story. Many successful Maya kings and leaders were known for having the same feline characteristics associated with the jaguar. The jaguar is often the symbol for life and fertility. It is also seen as existing outside of the human realm, giving it associations with the underworld. In the Chimaltenango region specifically, jaguars can be black or yellow with black spots. While the mask in the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Museum is red with green spots, the jaguar seems like a more likely option for inspiration than the wolf.

In order to understand why these seemingly odd paint choices might have been made, it is useful to look at the significance of these colors in Maya culture. Traditionally, red and black were popular in Maya cave art. Red pigment was originally made from the red clay dirt found in or near the caves themselves. In ancient times, Maya temples were painted in red and white colors. The red, white, and black paint on this contemporary mask follow along with this long-standing tradition.

Without speaking directly to the artist, of course, the intentions and inspirations behind this particular mask cannot be known for certain. However, it seems safe to say the original identification of the mask as “wolf-like” is most likely incorrect. Because this mask follows Maya tradition in paint colors, it seems more likely that the artist chose the more traditional jaguar native to the Chimaltenango region to inspire this mask.

[Caitlin Doepfner]

More sources:

Fischer, Edward F., and R. McKenna Brown. 1996. Maya Cultural Activism in Guatemala. Austin: University of Texas Press.

National Geographic. N.d. Jaquar: Panthera Onca. National Geographic. Accessed February 15, 2015.     http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/jaguar/

Lovgren, Stefan. 2004. Masks, Other Finds Suggest Early Maya Flourished. National Geographic. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/05/0504_040505_mayamasks.html

 

 

Object: Samurai Face Mask

E/1949/2/2
Samurai Face Mask
Japan
1650-1700
Black steel, Corded thread, Red Lacquer

This face mask of black steel, with grotesque features and chin protectors, would have been attached to the helmet of a Samurai by the blue cord connected to the face mask. The Samurai were the warrior scholars of Feudal Japan, who, for 700 years, were part of the armies that roamed across the land at their commanders’ lead. When not in battle they led quiet, simple lives of training and reflection, knowing one day they may die in battle. Their possible shorter life did not stop them from facing every day with courage.

They began their rise to power in the 12th century, as the strong central government of Japan, ruled by the emperor, became corrupted and weakened. In the year 1185, a military leader named, Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-99), forced the emperor to give him the title of Shogun (similar to a King) , which means barbarian conquering supreme general. The Shogun would become leader of the country, while the emperor was relegated to a strictly ceremonial position. The Shogun then selected advisors to serve as daimyo (like a Lord of governor), who ruled over large tracts of land. As can be expected, ruling over large amounts of land was difficult and protecting the land from bandits, even more so. To deal with the protection, the daimyo hired independent warriors who would become the samurai, which when translated means one who serves.

The samurai conducted themselves in a dignified manner in public; not drinking uncontrollably and treating women with respect. This was all a part of their bushido code (a code of ethics) that not only stressed respect to oneself and others, but also stressed education, physical and mental strength, as well as the various arts. Through this dignified public manner, samurai became respected by the public and continued to see their status rise as a warrior class. Only samurai were allowed to carry weapons in public and to disrespect them could mean death.

The weapons of a samurai were not only tools for combat, but were also seen as an extension of his very soul. The samurai treated these weapons with high regard and would not draw his weapons outside of war, for to do so meant someone would die. Many samurai believed that a weapon once unsheathed could not be re-sheathed until it had seen combat. As such, it was extremely disrespectful to draw a weapon for no purpose. The samurai sword was his most important weapon, which, according to tradition and belief, contained the samurai’s spirit. The armor the samurai wore was designed to turn aside the impact of arrows, which were the samurai’s biggest threat on the battlefield. Dying by the sword of another samurai was considered a noble death, but death by an arrow, which could come from any direction, did not have this distinction.

The facemask of the samurai called a mengu often had grotesque features including teeth and mustaches, in an attempt to intimidate the enemy. The inside, much like the mask in the collection, is lacquered red to reflect the warriors face and aid in the intimidation factor. While the facemask also had the purpose of offering physical protection to the face, its most important feature was the fact it provided a convenient place to tie off and hook the helmet cords, keeping it in place.

Take a look at this video to learn more about Samurai armor:

Sources:

Hanel, Rachael

2008  Samurai: Fearsome Fighters. Mankato, Minnesota: Creative Education.

Sinclaire, Clive

2004  Samurai: The Weapons and Spirit of the Japanese Warrior. Guilford, Connecticut: Salamander Books.

[Dakota Stevens]

Object: Ritual Mask

E/1967/23/2
Ritual Mask
Columbia, South America
Unknown
Bark Cloth, Paint, Tar

This mask is made of a bark cloth bag, which fits over the head of the wearer and is tied at the top. The bag comes to a point, which hangs over the top of the head. From this point of the tie, there are tassels of straw that hang down. The face portion of the mask has an oval disk of hardened tar, from which there are two tar covered pieces of wood protruding. The black tar is decorated with linear and geometric designs in white and yellow pigments.

This mask comes from the Yucuna Indians of Columbia. They inhabit the Miriti-Parana and lower Caqueta regions of the Amazon River on lands called resguardos. These lands are similar to reservations in the United States in that they are constitutionally approved by the government. Thanks to these resguardos, the Yucunas have been able to maintain many of their traditional ways and live with their worldview intact. This worldview emphasizes the interconnectedness of the environment with all living things. This interconnectedness is seen in the belief that balance must be maintained between humans, animals, and plants. If too much energy exists in any one of these categories, it would disrupt the natural flow of life. To aid in maintaining the balance, the tribe uses shamans (religious leaders) to help guide the group in properly distributing their resources and keep a healthy balance.

The mask depicted here is used in tribal dances by men. The mask is most likely used to celebrate the harvest of palm fruit, but it is only used once before being discarded. The dance is a way the Yucuna can celebrate their interconnectedness with nature and keeps nature in balance. Palm fruits come in a wide variety and are found in tropical regions all over the world. Some examples of the edible varieties of these fruits are coconuts and Acai berries. For many indigenous peoples around the world, palm fruits provide essential food for survival and even today are seen as an important part of their lives. Like the fruit, there are other parts of the palm tree, which provide for people. Leaves can be used as parts of traditional clothing and for housing, and they can also be used to store food by wrapping it up in the leaves. The bark and trunks of some palm trees are used for bark cloth clothing, such as what was used in this mask, in addition to making canoes.

Sources:

Fabius, Carine

2012  Jagua, A Journey into Body Art from the Amazon. Los Angeles: Kouraj Press.

Stein, Geoff

2011  Edible Palms: An Introduction to Palm Fruits. http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/3242/#b

[Dakota Stevens]

Object: Fencing Mask

E/1949/2/7
Fencing Mask
Japan
1650-1700
Painted metal, Cotton, Leather

This mask is an example of a typical Japanese fencing mask. It is made of a blue cotton head piece that has been padded to help the wearer shrug off blows from a bamboo sword. The face of the mask is trimmed in leather to provide stability. The red painted metal bars serve the dual function of protecting the face and as a marker to the opponent in the match; indicating a no strike zone.

The mask is the traditional mask worn in the Japanese sport of Kendo. The literal translation of Kendo is “Way of the Sword.” It was originally a way for Japanese warriors to train for combat without having to worry about severe injury, though one can still leave a bruise. Not only was the warrior protected from severe injury, but a priceless sword handed down through generations was also carefully guarded. Kendo is the more modern ritualized version of Japanese fencing, though it is not a solitary sport in Japan when it comes to the sword arts, which are taught to people of all ages. Two other Japanese sword arts include;  Bujutsu, which is an attempt to train individuals in traditional Japanese military skills and Iaido, which focuses on the technique and esthetic of drawing the sword. It is important to note Kendo is not Bushido, which is the way of the samurai. Kendo may have developed out of this tradition, but it has rules associated with it that combat did not.

Kendo is not just a physical sport, but also demands great mental work. When practiced properly Kendo becomes a Do; this is a path or way that can lead an individual to self-cultivation. This in turn means Kendo can lead a person to learning about him or herself, both physically and mentally.

Figure 3      Diagram of Kendo Uniform

Figure 3 Diagram of Kendo Uniform

One of the key components of Kendo is the uniform that is worn by all who practice it while in the Dojo, the hall where Kendo is practiced.  The uniform consists of a pleated split skirt called a bakam, and a heavy cotton top called a keikogi. By wearing this uniform, the students of Kendo link their modern training with the ancient tradition of Japanese martial arts. The uniform is usually dark blue or black in color which is associated with the samurai’s traditional role as a representative of social order. What this means is that samurai were a respected social class in Feudal Japan and as such were seen as a policing force just by being present and inspiring others to live by their example. Worn over the general uniform is the armor each student and master will wear to further protect themselves in bouts. The first piece of armor is the tare, which is tied around the waist as a hip protector. Next the do is put on to serve as the chest protector. The student then moves to protect the head with the hachimaki, a towel like cloth, which is also used to keep sweat out of the eyes. The second to last piece is the men, which is the face mask, an example of which is housed in the Ethnology Collection. The last piece is the kote, which are arm guards as well as hand guards.

Take a look at this video to learn more about Kendo:

Sources:

Donohue, John J.

1999  Complete Kendo. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle, Inc.

Sasamori, Junzo and Warner, Gordon

1964  This is Kendo: The Art of Japanese Fencing. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle, Inc.

[Dakota Stevens]

Object: Dance Mask

Figure 1     Balinese Dance Mask from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Balinese Dance Mask from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1958/24/1
Indonesia: Island of Bali
Materials: Wood and paint

This carved, wooden dance mask, known as a topeng mask, is from the island of Bali in Indonesia. It represents a devil figure, with flapping ears, a movable jaw, large canines, exaggerated eyebrows and eyes, and an attached moustache and beard.

Figure 2    Map of the island of Bali in Indonesia

Figure 2 Map of the island of Bali in Indonesia

Topeng masks are used in a variety of dances referred to as topeng dances, a dramatic form of Indonesian dance that originated in the 17th Century. It is believed that the use of masks such as this devil mask is related to the cult of the ancestors, which considers dancers the interpreters of the gods.

These traditional masks often include several characters: “Topeng Manis (the typical refined hero character), “Topeng Kras (the violent, authoritarian character representing power), “Topeng Tua (an old man who may joke and draw-out the audience), “Penasar” (a buffoon or jokester who often acts as the narrator), and “Dalem” (a sovereign or leader). There is also usually an element of evil, represented through a demon, witch, or other character that must be overcome to achieve the happy ending in the story. This devil mask may represent a character such as Rangda, a fanged child-eating demon from Balinese mythology. In topeng dances, there is an attempt to include all aspects of human nature such as the dualities of the sacred and the profane or beauty and ugliness.

Figure 3    Rangda mask and costume

Figure 3 Rangda mask and costume

A typical performance alternates between speaking and non-speaking characters, and can include dance and fight sequences as well as special effects (sometimes provided by the gamelan, a traditional musical instrument). It is almost always wrapped-up by a series of comic characters introducing their own views, even including current events or local gossip to amuse the audience.

There is another style of Balinese mask in the Ethnology collection (Click this link to view: E/1958/24/3). What kind of character do you think it represents? Why? Let us know in the comments or send us a note via e-mail!

 

Take a look at this video describing the history of Bali and how it has influenced performance and art on this fascinating island:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: African Sowo Mask

E/1974/1/1
Mende: Sowo Mask
Guinea Coast, Africa
Date Unknown
Materials: Carved wood, paint

The Sande Society is made up of female members throughout the western coast of Africa. The Mende are one of the several cultures that practice the Sande ideology. Mende groups live in the regions presently known as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. This mask exemplifies the characteristics of “secret society” masks that are used among the Mende members.

The Mende term for this type of mask is Sowo Mask. The mask is used in Sande ceremonial and ritual activities. The Sande Society is perceived as secret because many of the actual rituals and values are not shared with outsiders. Every Mende female goes into the Sande Society. Sande influences the social, physical and emotional development of a woman during her lifetime. Members of the Sande Society promote female empowerment, beauty and personal identity as well. Female Mende members are young girls when Sande members initiate them. During the initiation rituals, elder members actually wear masks like the one pictured above. Raffia and cloth from the neck down complete the Sande dress.

The Sowo mask itself is not the symbol of Sande. The mask does, however represent ideal images of wealth, good health and status. During the initiation ceremony, it also possesses the spirit of a water deity. The mask pictured above is adorned with elaborate and tightly rolled coils of hair. The largest and most highly decorated elements of the masks are the coiffures. Some masks are embellished with birds or snakes on the hair. Many of the masks share characteristic slit eyes. The mask pictured above has a single, vertical line that lies through each eye. It may possibly symbolize cicatrization, which is common with Sowo masks.

The production of Sowo masks are often commissioned to local men. They make the masks out of wood because it is functional and durable. They are painted with black paint, shoe polish or oil. This provides a shiny appearance and keeps it cleaner. In the Sande Society, it is very important that the masks are elaborate and have aesthetic appeal. By conservative estimates, the Sande Society has been active for several hundred years! Sowo masks are unique in that the Sande Society is the only indigenous organization in Africa in which women customarily wear masks.

[Alana Cox]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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