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Coconut masks known in Spanish as Mascaras de Coco are whimsical and colorful faces, animals, suns and mermaids made of a coconut shell half by Nahuatl artists who live in the Mezcala region along the Balsas River Basin in Guerrero State.
The Coconut Palm Tree is original to Asia and recent studies have led to believe it was brought to America before Columbus first visit. In Mexico Coconut palm trees grow in the coastal areas.
When dried the coconut shell becomes hard as wood but soft enough to be carved which has enabled its use in craft making all around the world. In Mexican State of Guerrero coconut shells are used to make masks.
Coconut shell masks are part of the decorative masks made in Mexico as from the 1950's when foreign tourism began visiting Acapulco. Nahuatl people from the Mezcala region found an outlet for their ancestral crafts and soon developed new ones with the buyers' feedback and encouragement.
Among these new crafts were the coconut shell masks made especially for sale. The first masks were based on Guerrero State traditional masks such as the jaguar and devil masks or human faces colorfully painted but soon the tourists' feedback helped the crafters to add sun faces, mermaids, popular animals such as pigs and cows and fruit shaped masks such as strawberries and watermelons.
Then the masks are shaped using clay, and decorated with cactus spines, seed poles, dried flowers or dyed ixtle. Once the mask is shaped and the clay has dried acrylic paintings are used to cover the coconut shell and to decorate it.
As with other decorative masks coconut shell masks reflect the culture of the crafters that make them even dough there are crafted for commercial purposes.