Chané Masks: Past, Present and Future

Chané Masks: Past, Present and Future

In all cultures, masks have always had a purpose that transcends the merely aesthetic, especially within the universe of ritual. The Chané culture is no exception, in fact, in the Chané culture, the masks are representations of power and balance between man and nature, intermediary between the world of gods and men.

Made of yuchán wood (Ceiba insignis) and natural pigments these masks, generically called "aña aña" (spirit), have a ritual value and serve as a direct link with the ancestors, the gods and nature.

The use of the masks is directly linked to the celebration of the Arete or "the real party", an agrarian and hunting ritual that lasts about 40 days and partially coincides with the Carnival season (February). During this time, the men go around the houses in disguise to the rhythm of "Pim Pim" (music made with drums, boxes and flutes) and end the ceremony by throwing the masks into the river to exorcise their ills. Although this was the original destination of the masks, nowadays they are also made by  order and used as decorative elements.

In solitude

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the process is the production of the masks. It is men who are responsible for their creation. 

The young Chané man has to go into the bush alone, armed with an axe, a machete and a knife, in search of a tree. Sometimes he has to walk several kilometres to find the right one. Then, he makes several masks out of its trunk, using the machete and knife. The wood of the yuchán is very humid, heavy and easy to work with when it is green or freshly cut, but it becomes light, fragile or brittle and difficult to use when it is dry. 

Once a suitable piece of wood has been obtained, the original shape of the mask is determined by marking its main features.

The subsequent work is carried out only by means of a knife, first making the hole that will later become the portion into which the wearer's face is inserted (only partially). The most typical shapes are those that take the form of an animal head or a human face

This work must be done in solitude, secretly, so that when the time comes to wear the masks, no one will recognise the wearer.

The colours used in the decoration are as follows: white, for painting the face; it is obtained from a snail (iatïta) that is burnt, ground and mixed with water. Lime is often used as a substitute. To paint black, charcoal is ground and mixed with water; this colour is used to draw eyebrows, mouth, moustache and some details.

The technical knowledge involved in the process is passed down from generation to generation, thus perpetuating an ancestral know-how whose premise is respect for nature and the environment in which we live: working without harming.


They always work, and this is one of their great legacies, by asking nature's permission, not by assault, as they make clear. They walk many kilometres a week to choose parts of trees where they can work without damaging them. The “mascarero“ insists that he does not sell a piece of wood: he sells nature, his Chané masks are a warning, a desperate plea to take care of his home, the nature, his ecosystem that is often broken by the hand of man.

The masks, the communities and their productions are loaded with the past, but they are also the present and the future.

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