Mexico: Masks, Carnival Faces

Carnival is celebrated by dancing in the streets, in many Mexican towns. It is a colourful feast characterized by the typical holiday hustle and bustle, dances, music, and masks of course.

The dance groups of the south of Tlaxcala perform the Dance of Chivarrudo. These dancers are representative of the mestizo cowboys who were responsible for the cattle drives in Tlaxcala in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Chivarrudo dancers move and jump while they sing letrillas (poems set to music). These dancers wear cardboard hats with geometric designs, furry chaps and sports coats. The chivarrudos also recite social criticism couplets between one dance and another.

The Dance of los Chinelos is a traditional dance of the state of Morelos, in which colourfully dressed dancers dance and wave flags accompanied by a set of traditional tunes played by a brass band. The town of Tepoztlán is known for its Chinelos but the dance is also performed throughout the state of Morelos in towns like Yautepec, Coacalco, Cuautlixco, Atlahuahuacán, Oaxtepec, Jojutla and Totolapan, as well as in some towns in the state of Puebla.

However, its origins are found in the town of Tlayacapan, when in 1870 a group of young people, who were excluded from the celebrations of Carnival, since they had to respect Lent, decided to disguise themselves with old clothes covering the face with a handkerchief (or piece of blanket) and began to shout, jump and dance the quadrille through the streets of the town. Today the Chinelos wear a long velvet tunic, a mask, a large plumed hat, a scarf and white gloves. The Chinelo‘s masks are characterized by large eyes, bushy eyebrows, a long moustache, and are made of mesh and always feature an upturned beard.

The indigenous Yaquis and Mayos, who inhabit the states of Sonora and Sinaloa celebrate carnival by performing the Dance of the Pascolas and the Deer, a ritual of pre-Hispanic origin that has been practiced for over 300 years as a call for rain to the gods. According to the vision of the indigenous communities, the pascolas (the elders of the party) were malignant beings, children of the devil. However, God won them in a game. The deer represents good. This dance is performed individually and the dancers are supposed to be also good musicians.

The choreography of the Dance of the Pascolas represents the confrontation between good and evil, which is symbolized by the deer and coyote masks. The several masks of the Dance of the Pascolas and Deer are made of wood and beards of ixtle. The dancers do not wear hats while they wear necklaces and medals with religious images. The zoomorphic masks that the dancers wear are supposed to transmit them the properties of the animal they represent, that is why dancers wear their masks when dancing to be able to move and jump like animals can do.  (G.L.)