Thursday, November 28, 2013

Making diablo masks for the Diablada Pillareña

Meet Marco Antonio Callamara. There are two things you should know about him. Firstly, he's not as scary as he looks. Secondly, he makes devil masks for a living.
Diablo de Pillaro
Marco Antonio Callamara showing off his latest creation
Marco gets paid to spend his days imagining the face of Satan, then recreating it with paper, glue and acrylic paint.

Marco is from Pillaro in Ecuador, a chilly town high in the Andes that can only be reached by a perilous, snaking road from Ambato. Pillaro is most famous for its diabolical annual festival.

La Diablada Pillarena is a UNESCO heritage festival with its roots buried deep into black Pagan soil. Sadly, its origins are lost to historians after a riot and fire in the 19th Century destroyed the town's archives. What is clear - the festival has nothing to do with the Catholic church... although there's clearly some fire and brimstone influences bubbling away in the mixed cauldron. 

The Face of Satan part iiBut the festival isn't until January - so I'll be back. In the months preceding the annual event the mask makers of Pillaro are busy adding the finishing touches to their devilish creations. Like some black metal Blue Peter presenter, I was in Pillaro with the stick back plastic to help make some masks.

The face of SatanMarco specialises in the wild and wacky. His masks are not traditional, and have a cheeky sense of humour. Many of his devils have erections or are cradling bottles of trago.

He works from his home just outside town and in the shade of the Tungurahua volcano. Beneath the washing line his yard is piled high with half-finished demons and diablos. In his lifetime he has created 200 masks and they sell for around $300 a pop.

Marco's workshop
I also went to see Edison Guachamin who maintains a more traditional approach to the diablo masks. Edison runs a local folk dance group so he not only creates the diablo masks but also choreographs the dance routines for the festival.

We compared one of Edison's masks with a pre-Incan mask from La Tolita civilisation, now housed in Quito's Museum and the likeness was extraordinary. Thankfully, there are still some dark corners the light of Catholic Spain has failed to illuminate.

Edison ran me through the process of making a devil mask, the entire procedure takes a couple of weeks but he has several masks on the go.

Yellow pages Satan
Satan in the phone book - look close and you can see numbers
It all begins with a clay mould, roughly in the shape of a human head. Over the clay, layer after layer of paper is added, bound by a strong glue. Edison uses a Quito telephone directory and it's strange to see the face of Satan emerging from the mess of names and numbers.

The masks are fitted with twisted horns which are secured (presumably with the consent) from the local ram population. The very finest masks are equipped with a pair of hairy ears which are secured (presumably without the consent) from the local pig population. Further accessories include animal teeth or marble eyes.

The masks are made to order and some people want a real horror show, others want something cheekier and more loveable. The devil comes in many guises.

Edison in his workshop
Edison working on Satan's snake staff
Finally the masks are painted in bright reds and blacks. The outfits are topped with giant crowns, made from folded cardboard. The headgear is very heavy and slightly unstable so dancing in one of these costumes under the heat of the Ecuadorian sun is a real challenge.

Showing a finished mask
Painting the teeth

I would dearly love to dress as a devil and dance through town. Disappointingly, it was suggested I should dress as the Guaricha – basically a clownish transvestite who has to flirt with authority and beg for money.  

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