Mask have been, and still are, used by many cultures around the world.
Guatemala shares much of its history with its neighbor to the north, Mexico. Both have used masks in cultural activities stretching back to the early Mayan period. Even today, masks are popular in Guatemalan culture and are often sold as souvenirs to tourists.
The earliest masks from the Mayan civilization, and the earliest in Guatemala, have been found near the sites of Uaxactún, El Mirador, Cival, Tikal and Nakbé, according to research found at authenticmaya.com. The masks seem to depict the sun and earth.
According to the author of “Masks: Faces of Culture,” John Nunley, funeral masks were placed alongside the deceased in Guatemala as early as 1500 B.C., and often depicted gods associated with the underworld.
The Palo Volador masquerade, dating back to before European contact in Mexico and Guatemala, was preformed before the rainy season. In Guatemala, monkey masks were worn and hung on poles that “descended from the sky” like rain.
Baile de la Conquista of Guatemala, much like ceremonies around the world, often includes men masked as women. According to Nunley, the masks represent fertility and are meant to help crops prosper.
Colores Del Pueblo, a website dedicated to Hispanic culture and heritage, explains that while religious themes originated in the pre-Hispanic past, some of the most well known dances today represent religious stories with saints and devils, and are a reflection of Spanish influence.