Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Length: 68.000 cm
Gift of the Committee for Cultural Relations
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Mask from a kukeri masquerade
From Pudarevo village, Sliven district, eastern Bulgaria, early 20th century AD
There are two main types of masquerade in Bulgaria. The older tradition (syrvaskary), found largely in the western part of the country, uses masks in the form of animals, which are made of the skins and feathers of wild animals. They are created and worn by unmarried men in midwinter or New Year festivals to promote the fertility of the animals which are hunted.
The second masking tradition (kukeri), to which this example belongs, is concerned with productive farming, both crops and livestock. It occurs in spring, typically on Shrove Tuesday in eastern, central and south-eastern Bulgaria. The masks from this area are often made from the fur and feathers of farm animals and have human features; this example has a nose, mouth and eyes. Bells are worn by the performers to frighten away the devil and encourage agricultural fertility. Five maskers dressed as 'spinsters', a 'grandmother', a 'bride' and the 'devil' visit different houses in turn to wish the occupants good fortune. They also beat onlookers with swords. This is believed to ensure the fertility or good health of those struck.
E. Kwasnik, Bulgaria: tradition and beauty (National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, 1989)
V.Kovacheva-Kostadinova and others (eds.), Traditional Bulgarian costume (Sofia, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences National Museum of Ethnography, 1994)