South America

Mama Negra mask from Ecuador

The Quechua-speaking people who live in the mountainous regions of Ecuador are enthusiastic users of masquerade. Their well carved and painted masks can be easily recognized because of round eye holes and heavy hardwood. There are many different dances and even more characters. Mama Negra is one of the most famous. This example appears to be old, used, and has more detail than most.

Each year in November, the city of Latacunga, Ecuador celebrates Mama Negra, a figure of national fame. The festival and parade originated in 1742 when local residents turned to the Virgin of Merced to save them from a possible eruption of the nearby Cotopaxi Volcano.

Today, the November parade can last hours with participants dancing and drinking the entire route. Along the way, important figures pass by, each with their own meaning and importance. Mama Negra arrives only after hundreds of others have danced past, many throwing sweets into the crowd, others offering shots of aguardiente, all dressed in brightly colored local costumes.

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