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    Land of winds > Traditions > Clothing | Issue 14 (Mar.-Apr. 2013)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Masks from Cuzco

Masks from Cuzco

One of the most diverse and interesting groups of masks from the Andes, similar in number to those seen at the Carnival of the Altiplano, is located in a relatively small area within the department of Cuzco, in the Peruvian Central Sierra.

Originally made from wood, masks are now made from papier-mâché, fabric, cast and, more recently, from chain mail. All of them follow a specific standard and include colours and characteristic adornments that make it possible to distinguish the members of one comparsa, cuadrilla or "baile" (group of musicians and dancers parading the streets) from the members of another.

As in many other places across the Andean range, the cuzqueño masks mostly appear during religious and popular festivals. Prominent among those celebrations are the Inti Raymi, the festival in honour of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit'i and the Festival of the Virgin of Carmen in Paucartambo, three of the most multitudinous in the Central Andes.

These masks are usually shaped after a human face with caricaturized features, although some of them represent animals and supernatural begins (i.e. the saqra or devils). The masks of the chujchus are yellow, for they represent malaria sick people. The masks of the negrillos (literally, "small black persons") and the cápac negros (literally, "powerful blacks") are black with exaggerated features: thick lips, bulging eyes, snub noses... The masks of the sikllas, sijllas or doctorcitos (literally, "small lawyers") are rosy with an expression between craziness and stupidity; representing terrible colonial administrators. The masks of the maqt'as, typical cuzqueño peasants, are smiling with prominent cheeks and aquiline noses. The majeños represent wine and brandy smugglers during colonial times and their masks have red noses and black eyes (the physical consequences of drinking and subsequent fighting). The masks of the auqa chileno, the qollacha, the contradanza dancers and the k'achampa dancers are also rosy with thin moustaches, while that of the caporal (leader) of the contradanza comparsa has a very large nose and a straight bushy moustache. Finally, the cápac collas (literally, "powerful colla [southerners]") wear white wool balaclavas (similar to those used by the ukukus) and rectangular monteras (hats) with lots of decoration, while their opponents, the cápac chunchos (literally, "powerful chunchos [Amazonian indigenous people]"), wear colourful feather headdresses on their heads.

The masks used in a specific locality are different from those worn in another not only in their materials and techniques but also in their features. Since masks represent social and cultural stereotypes and these vary from place to place, the ones from the village of San Jerónimo are therefore different from the ones from Pisaq, and these are different from those used in Paucartambo.

The groups of dancers and musicians usually buy their masks to traditional artisans who retain their character and hold on to old traditions, while visitors and tourists (more often than not unaware of what the meaning of the masks is) prefer innovative models.

Book. "Máscara, transformación e identidad en los Andes. La fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen", by Gisela Cánepa Koch. In Biblioteca Digital Andina [es].
Article. "Bailes multicolores y máscaras sofisticadas en Paucartambo", in Peruvian Embassy in Chile [es].
Article. "Máscaras de algunas danzas del departamento de Cuzco", in Perú Top Tours [es].
Article. "Danzas del Perú", in Arte y Cultura [es].

Picture 01. Mask of auqa chileno.
Picture 02. Mask of machu or caporal of contradanza.
Picture 03. Masks of maqt'as.

Picture A.

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