17 June 2010

A visit, a vacation, and vivacious vespertine vizards (part 16 of ?)

They're always kind of mean. That's just part of it. I think I've
discussed this tradition before, but just in case...
When a person puts on the mask (and it's not JUST a mask, it's a whole
outfit), they are no longer that person, they ARE the mask. These
beings are neither ancestors nor gods, nor do they have specific
magical powers. All the same, they are supernatural entities, and as
such are sacrosanct. They can do anything and get away with it. No one
will question a mask. And the person inside can't be held responsible,
remember - they aren't in control. In fact, the kids are even led to
believe that there IS no person inside. You can't talk about that
aspect in front of them; it's a lot like Santa Claus. Even most adults
believe the masks are real entities - they refer to them as "living"
in a nearby sacred hill - but they are aware that there are people
inside. And though that person may not be in control, you'll find that
the person's friends never seem to get hurt by his mask. As to who can
be a mask, I've heard two stories - one, that it suffices to know the
person currently inside and offer to take their place (the outfit is
hot and heavy, and when I expressed an interest in trying it out
everyone said I'd just fall over - the point is, wearing it is hard
work, and doing it in shifts is believable, especially since they
often stay out for 24 hours or longer); the second, that it's a role
handed down within a family. Since family ties and close friendships
so often go hand in hand here, these two are not so mutually exclusive
as it might appear at first blush.
So, however it's decided who wears one, the masks come out of their
hill for certain occasions. Whatever the occasion, their actions are
invariably the same: they dance, they greet people, and they hit
people. Everyone will gather around to watch them dance, but they're
always ready to scatter when the masks start running after them,
usually with a stick or knotted rope.

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