The traditional masks of Vrancea

The traditional masks are ancient remains of the collective memory. Masks were used in the fertility rituals, rain calling rituals, hunting rituals or in ritual dances. They represent characters from folk mythology. The mask games are played in specific moments of the year (Christmas, New Year, etc.) or on the events definitive for humans' life (wedding, death).

In Vrancea County (situated in the South of the historical region of Moldavia, Romania), at the dead watch, men wearing masks on their face dance in the courtyard, at the fire. Accompanied by drums, they offer a last party to the one who passes the threshold between the two worlds, a ritual to scare away evil spirits. The costumes cover most of the body and includes decorated wooden masks of animals (sometimes double-faced) and large bells attached to the belt. Only men wear masks. It is forbidden to say the name of the persons under the masks. These customs are probably the remains of ancient initiation rituals, of Thracian origins. Similar rituals can be also found in others Romanian regions, Bulgaria (the "kukeri" ritual) and Serbia.

Masks are made of fur and animal skin, of cloth, ceramic, carved wood, lime, fir or birch bark, metal rings or pieces, thick colored rope, bird feathers, hemp tow, horse or pig hair, beans and corn, straw, colored paper, beads, buttons, glass pieces, horns or pieces of objects. Some of these materials are colored. The most used tools for making masks are the knife, the clasp, the scissors, the hammer, the chip axe, the hand drill and the pincers.

Masks are remains of a strange, symbolical world which is getting lost in the industrialized world of today.