South America

Amazon animal mask

Q: My wife and I picked up this mask while in Ciudad Bolivar. While flying in to see Angel Falls we bought lots of things (not the drug kit). Recently the mask flaked and I am trying to figure out what to do. We where told that the black paint is actually bee’s wax. We really are not going to sell the mask. Any ideas? Randy, 1594

A: Your photo represents some kind of wild animal indigenous to southern Colombia or Venezuela (maybe an owl monkey or skunk). The particular Amazon Indian tribe who dance this style of mask for religious purposes are called the Piaroa-Huarime. It is made of a fiber frame covered with bark cloth and then white clay and black-stained bee’s wax. Masks like this are made for tribal ceremonies and for sale to tourists.

If some more of the bee’s wax seems to be coming off I would suggest you find someone clever enough to fix it. Otherwise, I would hang this stunning artifact on one of your walls and enjoy it as is. I would also suggest that you purchase Arts of the Amazon by Barbara Braun. If you want to collect more masks, also purchase Mask of the World by Ibold and Yohn. B+


  • Randy Shear

    So sorry I just got out mask down from our Venezuelan basket and decide to search the internet only to find my image and your fantastic reply-thank you so much for your suggestions and recommendations these are much appreciated-I also understood and you didn’t mention this that this mask was a hat used during the ceremony dances
    All the best Randy and Lyndea

  • Bob

    While references to areas of possible origins or tribal associations suggest some knowledge on masks, I consider many remarks on the authenticity or value of masks by the website owner ridiculous and partly dangerous (“airport art”, “made for tourists”). Some of the oldest African masks we know are clearly associated to the presence of Portuguese traders and I guess that with respect to the authenticity of tribal art, the Heisenbergsche uncertainty principle comes into play, namely when a foreign observer arrives on tribal grounds, these tribes will incorporate new influences in their art (meaning that there is no such thing as an “authentic mask”). As long as one can identify any shape allowing the assignment to any culture, a masks is of value (because you just identified the result of an evolutionary process, no matter at which point or with which purpose, let it be selling the object).

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