Hey, Bob, I hope you are well and enjoying the pre-holiday season. I am still in Guatemala, but I thought you’d like to hear about my masking adventures, which will end in 24 hours.
In Antigua Guatemala, the tourist capital of the country, I found an antique dealer who had several genuine used masks 30 to 50 years old, among a bunch of fakes and the popular tourist masks. I bought a child’s mouse mask for the Dance of the Little Animals, a Maximón, an unusual monkey (mono), and a full Español costume about 30 years old. I also came across a guy who was selling 40 year old convíte masks from Cobán and crudely handmade from thick plastic, which were pretty awful, but I bought the best one, partly because it’s pretty entertaining and partly because I have no convíte masks. Today, the Baile de los Convítes is almost always done in commercial costumes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and such.
When I got to Panajachel, I found all the morerías were gone, but I met an older man who had danced many Bailes del Venado in his youth, and he sold me 5 of his old family masks (a tigrillo, a moro, a léon, a venado, and a mico) at very reasonable prices. I plan to sell the tigrillo and keep the others. He also explained many obscure points about the dance in his region.
Then I came to Chichicastenango, where the Fiesta de Santo Tomás is happening. The first day, I saw the Baile Típico about 4 times, which was interesting. I then met the carvers and costume makers at the leading morería in town, and photographed them making masks and costumes. Their costumes are amazing, but they have no skill any more in mask making. The carving is just okay, and the painting, when it isn’t done by airbrush, looks like it was done by a 12-year-old. But I bought 2 old masks that are good, a character mask for the Baile Típico from the 1960s and a coyote mask from 1910 for the Baile del Venado. I also witnessed a very disappointing yet amusing modern Baile de los Convítes.
Today, I saw a brief Baile de los Toritos and went to the town’s other morería, run by the first guy’s brother. The masks were bad, even the old ones, so I bought nothing. Unfortunately, while I was recovering from running around non-stop for the last few days, I missed the Baile de la Conquista. There is very little reliable planning here, things just happen semi-randomly. However, tomorrow is the biggest fiesta day, and I am hoping to see a full Baile de los Toritos and a Conquista. They start at 5:30am, so I have to be up very early, but I am going to do everything possible to ensure I get good photos of both.
The weather has been extremely uneven, alternately sunny and dark/rainy, so photography has been a real challenge, but I think I pulled it off so far. I’ll send you pictures of the masks I bought, and dances and hechedores, once I’ve gotten back and recovered a bit. Meanwhile, happy holidays! Aaron