Unusual Maximon mask from Guatemala

Q:  Here is a very unusual mask from Guatemala, probably from the 60-70’s. It is said to have been used in the Dance of “Los Viejitos” (Baile Xetones) in San Juan Chamelco, Alta Verapaz. But I do not find any similar masks on the web or in the books. Did you see such a mask before?  Jean,  1482

A:  The seller may be right. But I’m thinking it could be a Maximon (also called San Simon) mask. Most of the Maximon faces we see are the top part of doll-like statues that can range in size from small to the size of an adult man. They are icons placed in an alter surrounded with other folk art and offerings. They are worshiped all over Guatemala and its diaspora.

Real masks of this religious figure are sometimes used for ceremony. Your mask is beautifully carved and has the mouth through which the celebrant can smoke or drink. However, Maximon almost always has a mustache. You might want to check out Guatemala’s Folk Saints by Jim Pieper for more on this subject. Maximon is an important religious icon for North America as is Mama Wata for Africa and its diaspora.  A




  • Jean

    Hi Bob,
    Thanks for this comment. Your suggestion is interesting, and I must say that it was my first thought when I saw this mask for the first time ( I even told the seller that It could be Maximon’s wife 🙂 🙂 ). He formally denied it. Of course you could be right. Indeed the cigar is a standard attribute of Maximom/San Simon. But I must say that I have never seen a Maximon mask without a moustache, neither in the Pieper’s books, nor elsewhere. And, as you mention, most of them are for puppets (frequently adult size), and therefore lack eye-holes because not worn by humans in dances or dramas. The present one looks really like a woman, with well designed eyelashes and a hairstyle with a central line…
    I really do not know what character it could represent, and there are very few details available about the “Baile Xetones” (see “Masks of Guatemalan Traditional Dances by Brown and Rossilli” vol.2, pg 511-515 – but there is no pic of a similar mask).

    If someone has more information, or a pic of a similar mask, thanks for posting it.

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