Discerning Tribal Art Ceremonial Masks of Costa Rica:
The vernacular of the Brunka mask imagery is expressive and, at times, complex. In previous articles we have discussed various aspects of La Danza de los Diablitos and its accompanying masks, but here we will examine one topic that has not previously been mentioned and that is the stylistic differences between the tribal art masks of Rey Curré and those of Boruca village.
In each of the two 3-day ceremonies, December 31 – Jan 2 in Boruca, and the 1st weekend of February in Rey Curré – a mingling of masked participants from both villages occurs, and as can be imagined, there is creative rivalry between the two groups evidenced in the masks that one sees.
In a broad sense, the exuberance of the younger men in each group often yields a more flamboyant mask, while the older men tend to be somewhat more reserved and even, one could say, contemplative in their mask style. The beauty of having 2 villages is precisely this artistic tension. Certainly each village produces a stunning crop of fearsome diablo tribal art masks (as shown above) often infused with creatures from the animism of their forefathers and other pre-contact elements; at the same time, the distinct style of the Rey Curré mask prevails, a style both ancient and quite exceptional.
Rey Curré Masks: Less Flamboyant Tribal Art
Rey Curré masks often have a distinguishable look that is exemplified by this example of a tribal art primitive mask.
Their ceremonial masks have maintained a similar aesthetic from the 1600’s. What you see in these rustic masks often is a caricature of how they imagine they would have been seen by the invading Spanish (think: cigar shop Indian). Sure, it is a burlesque and certainly self-deprecating, but it is also a flimsily disguised outrage at the persecution and cruelty suffered by their people. Just consider how the most side-splitting humour is often based in something tragic.
These masks are unpretentious and made mostly using balsa wood with the most basic of tools. You will see crude machete strikes on their surface and it will be clear that this primal depiction indeed connects the present day tribal person with his ancestors, and it is that unsophisticated – or is it nostalgic – holding close to tradition which serves to keep alive the continuity of the ceremony’s intention.
One of the most identifying traits of the traditional Rey Curré masks vs. the Boruca masks are the facial features of the former. The curve of the mask is flattened and the features are often of a more minimal bas-relief with less diabolic and more human-like features. I invite you to consider one of my personal favourites of this year’s batch of tribal art masks (shown at right).
It is a mask which was made for the Diablo Mayor as can happen in cases where a ceremony participant has, for one reason or another, not a mask of his own making. The artist, very well known to Namu, Edixon Mora, made a fittingly traditional style for this elder of the tribe. Not only is it in a minimalist Curré style, but it bears a striking resemblance to the wearer, wrinkles and all.
I would like to invite you, after reading this, to take a look at our current tribal art collection of Used Ceremonial Masks and before checking out the description that accompanies each piece, see if you can tell which of the two villages it came from!