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Types and roles of masks

Some masks are used in dance and may, depending on their character, impress, scare, make you laugh. Others may be the portraits of ancestors. Others are hanging above the eaves of houses, in their proximity or in the barn to protect livestock, to make the goddess of lightning go away.


Ancestor masks, often the oldest, who participated in funeral and shamanistic rites, are also currently used in events related to the calendar, including land. Generally masks from hills and highlands seem to have been infrequently used each year: once or twice a year.


The masks, which are used in dances or mimed pieces, allude to traditions and / or myths of the tribe or village. They punctuate many seasonal festivals.


The masks of clowns are the most common. They can be used in comic interludes during religious theaters sessions or seasonal festivals especially during New Year festivities. They can be used in specific parts which occur at night. These masks have a great freedom of execution with stylized figures with exaggerated features. This type of tribal or primitive masks differ from the more realistic characters embodying theater characters or lama divinities. They serve to lighten the mood or to convey important messages in an undramatic way. Buffoons masks combine laughter and obscenity in a game that often mixes laughter and fear. The jester could play an important role in shamanic sessions. The clowns come at moments of rupture of the agricultural and religious calendar, at times when the world order can be threatened. The figures of the old husband and the old wife who quarrel with one another are very popular.


The yogi is a widely used character in the festivals of the villages which have a religious and seasonal dimension. It is both a buffoon and a character with a paradoxical wisdom. It is both an individual subject of mockery and a feared character. It is a religious wanderer who claim to want to teach the path to enlightenment but is ridiculous with his clumsiness. But at the same time his knowledge suggest a magic power which can inspire fear. The highlanders are suspicious of religious wanderers. Are they magicians, fakirs, or holy men? Hence this paradoxical personality.


The observation of the masks can sometimes determine their origin or use. Thus, in particular:
* Masks with three clips for ropes (near the ears and the chin) are dance masks from tibetan, bhutanese or Arunachal Pradesh region.
* The mask with two holes near the ears are masks which were hung in houses, temples or used in the manufacture of mannequins rituals.
* The masks whose side is bordered by a roll of fabric are made by the Newars in the Kathmandu Valley and are placed here to render the port enjoyable.
* The masks whose reverse side is carved with greater skill are made by the Monpa and the Sherdukpen (Arunachal Pradesh region).


Sometimes it is difficult to know the function or the origin of the masks with so little information about them.


The role of masks is not limited to the effects on viewers, they affect the personality of the dancer, can cause possession or an effect of trance. The mask is not only the representation of a god or spirit, he is the incarnation of god or of the supernatural force.