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The Legend of El Diablo

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Made another amazing find recently that while not Tiki (in my opinion), is definitely Exotica!
According to the carved inscription in the back of this massive, high density wood mask, it was carved in Cuba in 1957 and is entitled "El Diablo" (and even though I thought I knew, I did have public school spanish so I looked it up to make sure - it's "the devil")
I taped satin fabric to the back of the mask to imit a funky reflective glow from all of the orifices, and even rigged up a dangling flicker light bulb behind the nose so that the eyes flicker firey orangish red at night!
I am quite fascinated by this particular design - I have seen many pale imitations of this, the grandest creation of it I have seen to date... often they are even sold out of Hawaii as "Polynesian" masks! See these auctions:
But is this really a Polynesian design? Was this carved for American polynesian popsters vacationing in Havana? It's such a frightening image with a head sprouting from the forehead, I can't imagine what culture first came up with it (but definitely the guys who created Alien are related to them).


I have no idea of the origin of the mask, but its sibling is up for bid on ebay:


~ tikigreg

[ Edited by: tikigreg on 2002-05-10 14:00 ]


Weird, although I can spots lots of minor differences, clearly this mask looks to be carved by the same person/company - yet they are dating it pre WWII and from the south pacific... i wonder where they got that info...

Masks are perhaps the trickiest part of tiki culture in the fact that they are often the most difficult to identify. It only takes a visit to a local importer of Asian/African goods to see masks that could almost be Tiki.

What you have there is an amazing mask & more information about it (and similar ones) would be very welcome! These fierce masks must be Hawaiian???

Trader Woody



[ Edited by: kahukini on 2003-11-26 10:17 ]

I saw similar masks for sale in tourist shops in Hawaii - of course, certainly not that elaborate, but it is exactly the same face and headress. You can get these small ones pretty cheap. I decided not to as it didn't look that 'tiki' to me. Looked more Thai or something... but they must be linked to hawaii somehow as they are sold there in so many shops.

The routes and channels of the tourist carving business are mysterious, but just looking at the style of the two GOOD masks (Kahukini's and the one Tiki Greg found on e-bay) I would say they originated somewhere in Indonesia, the Phillipines or so. They are definitely vintage, because that love of detail is hard to find nowadays in tourist carvings, the level of workmanship having devolved to the likes of the other two ones that Kahukini refers to on e-bay, which in my opinion belong in the category that Paul Theroux coldly refers to as "nameless-looking bits of hacked wood". The glossy laquer that is trying to make the cheap wood look better is always a giveaway of this kind of airport art.
There actually was no tradition of masks anywhere in pre-contact Polynesia. Melanesia is the closest culture group to Polynesia that had a strong mask tradition. But there is a definite history of mask use in American Tiki culture, and the red glowing eyes are a must! And off course you can buy masks nowadays in Tonga and other islands, cause the tourists want them.

[ Edited by: bigbrotiki on 2002-05-11 10:26 ]


Here's another one, slightly different with more lionistic than dragonistic head coming from the forehead that was sold on ebay a while back by our friends at Aloha Cruz. Looks to be carved by the same person/company.



The HeadHunter Tiki Bar of Birmingham, AL is proud to announce the opening of the new Diablo Memorial Dining Area:

Very Nice, Kahukini. Keep up the good work!

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