South America

Old Bolivian funeral mask

aaaMystrySolvd-1001Q:  I acquired this silver mask in Bolivia about 30 years ago at a price of ca $100. At the time I was told that it is a funeral mask worn by the living who attended a funeral. Size of the mask is 5,5 by 4,5 inches. Any information that you are able to provide will be greatly appreciated.  Gideon, 1001

A:  At that small size and without eye holes, this is not something to wear. It would appeal to tourists and some collectors. There is a similar, but larger, mask on page 158 of my new book, Masks of the World. It says “this Pre-Columbian mask is 8″ high and made of beaten silver. It was bought in Bolivia in the 1950’s. There is a similar mask in the Museo del Oro of La Paz.” Two years ago when I was writing the book, I could not confirm this. Today I tried again… and failed again. I hope one of our readers will shed some light on these intriguing metal masks.aaaMystrySolvd-1001-b

Later I did a search on the internet and discovered that silver Aymara masks, large and small, are a popular tourist item in La Paz. The Aymara are a large indigenous culture populating the Altaplano region in western Bolivia. These are often called Inca funeral masks.


One Comment

  • Gideon Volschenk

    Bob, Thanks very much for your prompt reply to my query. One point however, although they are not quite evident in the photos, there are eye slits, rather than eye-holes. And in addition to this, I was also told that it was a mask for a child or a baby. I might add that at the time that these masks were used, I was told that the very superstitious persons who attended funerals did not want evil spirits who might also be in attendance, to recognise them afterwards. Thanks again, Gideon.

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