The Kim Mun Lanten people of northern Vietnam and Laos traditionally follow a Daoist doctrine which overlays beliefs in animism (being affected by outside “spirits”) and ancestor worship. The masks are worn by shaman during ceremonies to impersonate deities who help one’s own spirits adhere more strongly to the self. Thus, a mask may be used by a shaman to strengthen someone who is going on or coming back from a hunting or trade expedition. The masks are decorated with bright paper at each usage, and often an older mask will have vestiges of paper from its last village ceremony.
Some masks are carved from soft wood – often these are newer, necessarily thicker, and cruder in their cuts. Others are carved from hardwood, and made thinner and more face-forming – often these are more valuable as they took more precision to carve. The masks we encounter are quite varied, reflecting the uniqueness of each village and shaman. Many masks are additionally decorated with tufts of goat or other hair that is stapled to the wood to mimic beards and eyebrows. https://hilltribeart.com