Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the October 4, 2015 Newsletter issued from Yuxunah, 20kms southwest of Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, MÉXICO
YAXUNAH'S MASK CARVERS

It wasn't hard to find a carver. As I stepped from Yaxunah's Community Center entrance a little girl I'd talked to before approached and asked where I was going. When she learned that I was looking for a mask carver she said that her father carved masks, so she took me directly to her home, just a stone's throw away. There I found Don Ignacio working in late afternoon sunlight flooding through his hut's door, shown below:

carving Maya masks in Yaxunah, Yucatán

Below you can see him gouging away wood:

carving Maya masks in Yaxunah, Yucatán

Ignacio's wife inside the hut was painting the masks. Some unfinished ones lined up against the hut's wall, illuminated by sunlight streaming through the door, is shown below:

Maya mask in Yaxunah, Yucatan

The nextdoor neighbor also carved masks and had some unfinished ones leaning against the base of his hut, shown below:

Maya masks, Yaxunah, Yucatan

Ignacio said that he used Chakah wood, what English speakers sometimes call Gumbo-limbo, Bursera simaruba. That fast-growing species is abundant in this area, almost a weed tree, known to have relatively soft wood, so carving it makes sense. You can see that its wood is white. Our Gumbo-limbo page is at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/gumbo.htm.

Ignacio said he'd be glad to show visitors his whole mask-making procedure, for a small fee, for the half hour or so he'd need for describing the process would take him away from his usual work. My impression is that once all the tools and paint are paid for, the masks are transported to a tourist zone, and the salesman takes his commission, the woodcarvers don't receive much for their work. I think that most of them also have their cornfields to tend to, and take other jobs on the side. Woodcarving just provides a little extra income.