A frightening devil: real teeth and goat horns

A frightening devil: real teeth and goat horns

One of the three Spaniards shows his face

One of the three Spaniards shows his face

A MoroA Moro

Our hero!Our hero!

25 students from Hinsdale High School came to Mariposa on Monday for an all day “teach in” on Latin America.  They are studying Spanish, and we provided an immersion in Latin American culture for five and a half hours.   They handled textiles and heard the stories of molas, arpilleras and huipils from Terry; Ricardo made salsa cruda and guacamole with them; they cut papel picado decorations; I taught a lesson on Aztec and Mayan masks.  After a lunch of Mexican food from Marjorie’s kitchen, we danced salsa and merengue with Richard.  A full day!

The masks I used were given us by Jack Donnelly of Dublin.  He worked and traveled in the highlands of Guerrero, Mexico and Huehuetenango, Guatemala, first as an anthropology student and then as a Peace Corps volunteer.  He collected wooden masks in Aztec and Mayan villages.

The masks fall into three main categories:  Spanish conquistadors, devils and Moors.   As the Catholic Church “Christianized” the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Guatemala, the friars (many of them Dominican) encouraged the use of masks in dances that portrayed the victory of the Christian “good guys” over the “bad guys”: devils and Moors (the Muslim conquerors who ruled much of present day Spain from 711 to 1492 CE).

The photos show a very scary devil; a Spaniard with light skin and blond hair, including moustache; and a Moro with brown curly hair.

An irony of the masked dances is that the light-skinned, blue-eyed masks were worn by dark-skinned, brown-eyed Indians who more closely resembled the Moors than the Spaniards.  This irony did not escape the native peoples.

The Festival of San Sebastian in Diriamba, Nicaragua dates back to the early 1500s.  It features troupes organized by family or neighborhood who dance to the music of their bands.  Each has a marshal who clears the route ahead.   Masked dancers with blue eyes and peacock feather hats represent the Spanish conquistadores, and those wearing donkey masks, their overburdened pack animals.  This dance, the Gueguense, pokes fun at the Spanish authorities, even in its name which apparently contains a crude joke in the native language, Nahuatl.  Native peoples often found ways to make fun of their colonial rulers, and this dance is one of the oldest satires on the continent.

The last photo shows a young dancer who has removed his Spanish mask to show the Indian underneath.