Peru PeruZine

The Huacon’s Mask

Disponible en español aquí

When a Huacon puts on his mask, he is transformed into a figure of authority that demands respect. Old Huacons (see below) wear masks with grotesque caricatures of older men. The masks of the Modern Huacons (see above) have prominent noses that take their form from the Andean Condor, Vultur gryphus. This large, soaring vulture was believed by the Incas to be the sun god’s messenger and continues as a symbol of power and health in many Andean cultures.

The masks are the creation of the dancers themselves or craftsmen living in Mito, Peru.

An Old Huacon with a Modern Huacon in the background. Mito, Peru (2019).

The Golden Huacon

Julio Landeo Álvarez was busy working in his wood carving studio El Huacón de Oro (The Gold Huacon), on New Year’s Eve. It’s a noisy place, where almost every sentence in the conversation gets intercepted by the sounds of car horns as they overtake down the fast, straight section of road through the Mantaro Valley or the klaxons of buses as they signal to pick up passengers to and from Huancayo. He was up against a tight deadline to complete several masks in time for the dancing on New Year’s Day.

Julio Landeo Álvarez varnishes a mask in his studio, The Golden Huacon, Mito, Peru (2018).

The 35-year-old mask maker from Mito started his profession as an assistant to his brother, Andrés, who first taught him his craft by making wooden animals. He has been carving masks for about fifteen years.

Years ago, alder was used, but we don’t have much of it so I’m using pine.

It takes Julio two days to create a single mask: one day to do the rough carving and a second to sand, paint, and varnish the finished product. We asked Julio what kind of wood he uses? “Well, years ago, alder was used, but currently, we don’t have much alder near here in our district, so now I’m using pine.”

Julio makes masks for local dancers in Mito as well as for sale elsewhere in Peru and around the world. He participates in an annual exhibition at the National Museum in Lima, organized by the Ministry of Culture, which brings artisans together and promotes their work.

I feel proud because many Huacons wear my art, my work.

How does Julio feel when he sees the dancers wearing his creations? “Ah, I feel proud because many Huacons wear my art, my work. In each mask I make, I put in my name. If there is no “LA” then it’s not my mask. It’s like a stamp, and I feel proud and happy that my name is growing more. They take them abroad (and say) Mr. Landeo made it.”

Sometimes, clients come to Julio with drawings of what they are looking for, and he accommodates them, even if there is a smile on their face. But he prefers to carve more serious, annoying faces because of what the Huacon represents–someone who must be respected on the same level as the town mayor.

The Huaconada is a very important dance. It’s been declared as intangible cultural heritage worldwide by UNESCO.

We asked Julio what the tradition of the Huaconada means to him? “Oh my! The Huaconada is, for me, it’s a very important dance that’s been declared an intangible cultural heritage worldwide by UNESCO. It’s a dance that can’t be matched by other dances. It’s many years old, it’s a very original dance from this district.”

We said our goodbyes, leaving Julio to get back to his urgent work, varnishing a beautiful carving for a Huacon who was going to dance on New Year’s Day.

Mito and its cultural heritage

Mito, a town of around 1,500 people, is located 3,286 m high in the Andes of Peru in Concepción, Junín Region. It is the home of the Huaconada, a cultural dance and event performed in January of each year that UNESCO recognized for its Intrinsic Cultural Heritage in 2010.

The Huaconada is performed around the main plaza of Mito, Peru. (2019).

Films and books about the Huaconada of Mito

These photographs were made in Mito between December 31, 2018, to January 3, 2019, when I was producing a book called Behind the Mask (available from Betula Books) and a documentary film (The Mask and More) about the Huaconada of Mito.

I also created a shorter and more accessible publication as part of my series PeruZine. You can see more about how I create photo books here.

Please click on the Betula Books box below to find out more, or buy a copy of Mito and other books in the PeruZine series.

1 comment on “The Huacon’s Mask

  1. Pingback: La Máscara del Huacon – NixonScan

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