The evolution of masquerade in Guatemala

Most of the world’s folk art continues to evolve. I asked Aaron about the way Guatemalan masks have changed over the last 35 years. Here is what he said.

If anything dramatically illustrates the changing traditions, I’d say it was the convites masks.  The convite tradition goes back to medieval Europe and represents a relatively popular celebration of a local saint.  I say “popular” in contrast to other dances, which typically involve heavily rehearsed dances by persons who spend quite a lot on buying or renting costumes from a morería.  The elaborate costumes and masks for the Baile del Torito or Baile de la Conquista, for example, cost about 3 or 4 months’ worth of wages for the average Guatemalan.  In contrast, the convites typically make their own masks and costumes, and there is no orthodoxy for how they should look.

You saw my plastic convite mask from the 1960s.  Only 10 years earlier, the masks would all have been made from wood or linen soaked in plaster (see the attached archival photo of Momostenango in 1963).  By the 1960s, everything had begun to change.  My mask isn’t the only one made out of plastic in Cobán from that era.  All the masks were, and each dancer hand-decorated it according to his taste (usually very crudely—believe it or not, mine is the least crude of the masks from that time and place). The 1960s appears to have been a turning point.  By the late 1960s, the convite had begun evolving in response to television and movies. More and more masks represented Disney, Looney Toons, and Hannah Barbara characters.  Wood gradually fell out of favor as too expensive and requiring too much skill, and the dancers began using their (and their family’s) considerable expertise in needlework to sew fabric masks and costumes.  They now even attach LED lights to their costumes, the same way that Austrian Perchtenlauf masqueraders use LED lights on their Krampuses.  The attached photo shows the modern Baile de los Convites in Chichicastenango, which is one of many shots I took this year.  Wood to crude plastic to giant fabric costumes with LED lights.  That’s a fast evolution.  Aaron, 1080



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