The Portuguese masks presented in this exhibition are all from Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro. Even though the precise origin of the use of these masks at certain times of the year is unknown, its connection with Winter rituals associated with the end of an agricultural cycle and the beginning of another, arising with Spring, is obvious. According to some researchers, this kind of masks, present in several European rural areas, come from practices inherited from the old agrarian cults, related to the fertility of the land and the change of the harvests.
The moments of worship are, however, also moments of connection between the world of the living and the world of their ancestors, where there is a predisposition for the appearance of demons, ghosts and the souls of the dead. Therefore, some say, the masks from Trás-os-Montes represent the devil and the dead ancestors. This is quite evident in elements of their construction: in the teeth, in the horns or in the use of the red color.
Although today the use of these masks has lost its ritualistic character and has become a cultural performance, some practices of the old rituals seem to remain: the begging and the food offerings, the playful character of the celebrations or the spirit of spree and debauchery, especially in the behaviour of the masqueraders, who run through the streets screaming and rattling at the single girls.
A special thanks to the Academia Ibérica da Máscara, in the person of its president António André Pinelo Tiza, for all the information provided and the support given to us in direct contact with the mask builders of Trás-os Montes.