Tecuán. The Wild Beast
Mexican Masks

For the pre-Hispanic Cultures, the masks served to conceal the soul, appearance, and personality, of the mask wearer and transformed the wearer into a mystical state in a way to communicate with the supernatural to influence the powerful forces in nature. However, masks shouldn't be view in isolation. For their role to be understood, they need to be studied in context. The dances which use masks must be studied and analyzed to understand the significance of the mask. Historic dances served as a function to tell future generations of important events that impacted the villages and keep the memory of those events alive.

The Danza de los Tecuanes portrays the legend where a wild, man-eating beast stalks and kills a series of domestic animals with a whip. Villagers at the time had to protect themselves from the animals that would pass by their town and try to threaten to eat their food supply. There was no stopping for these wild beast, for they were too strong, cunning, and powerful. The villagers gave the name of "Tecuán" to the mightiest wild beast of them all. No matter how many times a villager tried to kill it, the animal survived. The villagers became alarmed and went to the Lord of the Mountain.  He agreed to take on the task for a lot of money. After several failed attempts, he knew the deed would take more than one person.  He got the other villagers to agree to help. They disguised themselves as stones, trees, and animals. Each night they would put the real animals in the center of the circle while the disguised villagers formed a circle around them. When the Tecuán came to attack one of the animals, the disguised villagers surrounded this wild beast, and as a group, they killed it. They rejoiced by celebrating its demise by holding a festival that lasted for eight days. They retold the arduous story about their feat through dance.

In the dance, there are usually eight dancers masked as a domestic animal- like a pig, goat, donkey, rabbit, bull, rooster, and so on. At least two are disguised as hunters with shotguns. The principal dancer is the Tecuán, who stalks, captures, and kills each animal with his whip. In between, the wild beast runs into the audience, pouncing on unsuspecting people. A group of hunters pursues him since no one hunter could bring down the jaguar on his own. A dancer masked as a healer tends to the wounded animals. Ultimately, the tecuán is shot by the hunters and dragged away. The dance is usually performed during Lent and at regional fairs. The typical Tecuán mask doesn't have eye holes, and the dancer must look through the mouth. The performance is danced to the traditional music of the flutes and drums.  An interpretation of the dance tells the danger of being a farmer in a delicately balanced environment and the rules of morality for that region.

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Create your own Tecuán Mask

Try this colorful 2D art activity from our

Mask Exhibit

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