The Iconography of the Mask

James S. Griffith Collection of Mayo and Yoeme Pascola Masks

 

The Iconography of the Masks

Mayo pascola masks are small in size, made out of wood, and have an oval shape. They average around 19 cm by 13 cm. Pascola masks generally depict male human beings, but goat-like animals are also portrayed. Although infrequent, some masks appear to represent female human beings as well. The base color for the Mayo mask is usually black, but brown and blue coloring is used also.

Two formative characteristics of the pascola mask are the beard and the eyebrows. Made with either animal hair, usually horse or goat, or ixtle (agave) fiber, these features are attached to the mask through tiny drilled holes. In keeping with tradition, the hair is white or pale in color. Short, the beard usually measures about 10 cm, but may extend as long as 20 cm. The eyebrows are so long as to cover the entire face. Other physical characteristics that make up a face, such as eyes, nose, and mouth, are realistically depicted, but vary from maker to maker.

photo courtesy Emiliano Gallaga
Exterior
photo courtesy Emiliano Gallaga
Interior
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Exterior
photo courtesy Emiliano Gallaga
Interior

Eyes are always carved completely through in order for the dancer to see when the mask is covering the face. Noses are well-defined and occasionally may be decorated. The mouth (Fig. 5.1) is frequently open showing the upper row of teeth with a protruding tongue in a burlesque fashion. Some masks include an opening in the mouth to help the dancer breathe. Made of leather or cord, a strap tied through two holes in the mask’s sides at eye level secures the mask to the dancer's head.

photo courtesy Emiliano Gallaga
Cross on chin

Pascola masks exhibit unique decorative elements. The most distinctive one is the cross, located normally on the forehead and sometimes on the chin (Fig. 5.2).

The cross is thought to protect the dancer from witches and devils. Tellingly, if the mask is meant for sale to tourists it often does not display a cross. Griffith recorded four types of crosses (Fig. 5.3):

  • Greek
  • Latin
  • Patée
  • “Alcario” (a type of Orthodox cross)
photo courtesy Emiliano Gallaga
Greek cross
photo courtesy Emiliano Gallaga
Patee cross
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Latin cross
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Alcario cross

Forehead crosses may be flanked by flowers, stars, letters, and leaves.

photo courtesy Emiliano Gallaga
Leaves
photo courtesy Emiliano Gallaga
Flowers
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Letters
photo courtesy Emiliano Gallaga
Stars