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The Varied Influences On West Indies Masks

In discussing West Indies masks we are in fact talking about masks produced in the area better known as the Caribbean.

West Indies masks are an intriguing way of learning the rich ancient history of an area of the world often overlooked.

The two strongest influences on Caribbean masks are African and Roman Catholic.

The African connection is easy to understand when you realize how many of the original settlers of these lands came from Africa.

Their lore and traditions were passed down from generation to generation and much of that passing down was in the form of masks.

The Roman Catholic influence came about of course because of the influx of Roman Catholic missionaries after Christopher Columbus first stumbled onto these islands, believing he had reached India.

The sweeping conversion to the Christian faith and Catholic tradition, which is of course rife with symbology and icons, gave the avid West Indies mask makers plenty of ideas to add to their already rich plethora of mask subject material. No one should be surprised to find a heavy Roman Catholic influence in the masks, even today.

The biggest difference between masks in the West Indies and their African cousins is the West Indies preoccupation with bright colors. Nearly all masks you see from the West Indies will be awash with a veritable kaleidoscope on complementing and contrasting colors.

Some might even call the masks of the West Indies garish but if you consider that the masks seem to mirror the rich and vibrant cultures they have sprung from you might be able to better appreciate these striking masks.

Today most West Indies masks are made from paper mache and are hand painted. Yet even with this somewhat modern material the masks still speak loudly about the vibrant rich heritage of the people of the West Indies.

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