Masks of the World: Central & South America


Hi Everyone! 

Today we are going to be looking at the masks of Central and South America.

A lot of these masks involve some type of dance or ceremony and I have included video links showing the ceremonies, and some about the indigenous people. At the bottom you will find a Q&A, and links to crafts & a recipe you can do with your kids.

Arte-Amazonia : Venezuela, Brazil, and Columbia

This website highlights a collection of masks from the Amazon.This organic art form is rooted in indigenous spirituality often representing mythological beings and rainforest spirits. Throughout Amazonia, we find that the spirits of the rainforest are actively intermingled with daily life and honored in sacred ceremonies:

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Peru: Sican Death Mask

The Sican mask, once adorned the body of a deceased ruler on Peru’s north coast. It is made of gold, silver and copper covered in red pigment and is hammered into a flat sheet and then shaped into the form of a face. in Sican culture death masks were given to individuals of importance in society. The Sican proceeded the Inca and were from northern Peru, in the period of 900-1100 AD.


Argentina Wichi

The Wichi are an indigenous people of South America. They are a large group of tribes ranging about the headwaters of the Bermejo River and the Pilcomayo River, in Argentina and Bolivia.. At present, their culture and society is under threat from deforestation They are a hunter-gatherer nomadic tribe. This mask would probably be used by a medicine man who would fight off disease with singing and a rattle.

You can watch a video about the Wichi here:


Source: Bob Ibold, Masks From Around the World

Bolivian Carnival Mask-Devil

The Carnival takes place in February and combines Christian elements with the traditional Ito Festival, dating back over 2000 years.  It takes places before Lent and lasts for ten days.

Each plaster of Paris mask takes more than a month to make, with the entire process being done by hand from making the molds to creating the specific features of different characters in the country’s typical dances on each of the masks. After making each basic mask, the artists polish it and add coats of paint to create textures and ensure that it best resembles the character it is designed to represent, The key is to take into account the tiniest details and also to use other materials like sequins, mirrors, pearls and even synthetic hair to make the masks more lifelike. the devil used in the “diablada” dance, and this one is very colorful, with horns, snakes, two bulging eyes and big teeth. Nowadays, many masks are no longer made of plaster of Paris, due to the weight of that substance, but rather are fashioned of fiberglass and resin.

Here you can see a video of The Carnival of Oruro:

An an exhibit of Bolivia’s Carnival Masks:

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Source: Bob Ibold, Masks From Around the World

Ecuador Highland Quichua people, Pinchincha Dog Mask (painted wood)

See this article about the man Julio Toaquiza Tigasi who made these carved wooden masks from Ecuador famous:


Source: Bob Ibold, Masks From Around the World

Ecuador Quechua people, Diablo Umo Fabric Mask

The Diablo Umo fabric mask is a classic from the Quechua-speaking people of Ecuador.  Worn by dancers during the Inti Rymi celebration of the winter solstice, these masks slip over the head and have 2 sides so the dancer can never be surprised by the devil. You can see a video here:


Guatemalan Tecun Uman Mask, wood (Royal Albert Museum  and Art Gallery)

This is worn for the “Dance of the Conquest” which marks the death of Tecún Umán, the last K’iche’ Maya hero who resisted the Spanish and who died in battle in 1524. Two green Quetzal birds, the national symbol of Guatemala, frame his face. Here you can view a video of this dance:



Guatemalan Deer Dance 

This takes place the day before the Feast of Corpus Christi and is a Mayan festival filled with tradition, feasting, and dance: The deer dance represents the hunt and how humans and animals coexist in nature:  You can watch a Great Big Story video Here: 


Mexican Xantolo mask (Día de los Muertos) (wood)

Skulls, kept as trophies by Aztecs and other Mesoamerican civilizations, were used to symbolize death and rebirth and to honor the dead, believed to come back to visit during Dia de los Muertos. Today, people don wooden skull masks called calacas and dance in honor of their deceased relatives. The ritual involves making of altars or offerings with elements of local cuisine, seasonal flowers and fruits, candles and religious images, firecrackers and ringing bells, prayers and songs, as well as the hallmark of this celebration, which are the traditional dances called vinuetes , in which they dance with costumes and masks of skulls, demons and others, accompanied by the typical music of the area.This tradition takes place in the Huasteca region of Mexico and pre-dates colonialism. You can watch a beautiful Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City here:


Mexican Chapayeka Mask from the Yaqui people  Chapayeka means “long nose” in Yaqui, perhaps referring to the early Spaniards. This is a blending of the Christian and Maya traditions and would be worn during a celebration around Easter time. Here you can read more about the enactment of the ceremonies and other mask types:


Source: Bob Ibold, Masks From Around the World

Panamanian Woven Palm Animal Mask

This is a toucan bird mask from the Wounaan-Embera Indians of the Darian rain forest between Panama and Columbia. It is hand woven from palm fronds using the coil methods, much like a basket. The dyes are natural, made from bark, leaves, roots and fruits. The Emberá shamans’ (called jaibaná) use these masks in their healing and cleansing ceremonies and they are meant to ward off bad spirits.. They are often quite stylized. The masks are assembled around the hut where a curing ritual takes place. For more information see: and a gallery of Embera masks:


Paraguay Chiriguanos Indians, rabbit mask (painted wood)

You can read more about the Guarani culture here:

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Source: Bob Ibold, Masks From Around the World

Venezuela Devil Mask, Festival of Corpus Christi (papier mâché)

The Dancing Devils of Yare is a religious festival celebrated on the day of the Feast of Corpus Christi, in San Francisco de Yare, Miranda state. However it also incorporates elements from Venezuela’s African-descendent past, and the maracas used by the devils have an indigenous origin. You can read more about the Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi here:

You can see a video here:



Bob Ibold is the curator and owner behind the website “Masks From Around the World,” a thorough digital collection of masks representing cultures of nearly every continent. Some of the images and text above was taken from his site. For more information about this collection, visit The images used above are reproduced with his permission. Please contact him directly if you intend to re-use or redistribute this content.


Here is a tutorial on how to make your own day of the Dead Mask using a plain white mask, paints and stickers:

And instructions on how to make one in paper maché:

Q+ A

Do you believe in “bad spirits?”

What would you do to scare them off if so? A mask or a dance? Something else?

Can you come up with your own dance or ceremony to ward off evil spirits? 

What would you wear? Would you eat or prepare special foods?



Make your own Brazilian Feijoada, a stew composed of sausages, chopped pork, and black beans.

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