Published on August 10, 2014 by Amy
Traditional Cherokee Indian tribal masks, called booger masks, are made from gourds. A booger is roughly equivalent to a bogey man. The masks are worn while performing a repertory of booger dances. Booger masks represent caricatures of ethnic people foreign to the Cherokee tribes, including Europeans, Chinese, African Americans and other Native American tribes. The dances often have sexual overtones, referring to the Cherokees’ perception of the foreigners obsession with sex. The dances were banned after the Trail of Tears forced marches due to the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The art of making booger masks was revived after 1900 and is still practiced by Cherokee artists in the early 21st century.
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Select a large, round bushel gourd for the mask. Get one at least 12 inches in diameter, with walls at least a half-inch thick. Buy the gourd at a show or from a farmer while it’s still green. Scrape off the outer skin with a butter knife. Dry the gourd thoroughly. Use a field-dried gourd if you can’t find a green one.
Pour several cups of bleach into a large tub filled with water. Soak the gourd in the solution for an hour, turning it frequently. Scrub off the skin and mold with a steel or copper wool pot scrubber. Scrape the dirt off the bottom of the gourd and any stubborn areas with a butter knife. Rinse the gourd with clean water and set it out to dry.
Puncture the gourd with a utility knife. Put the blade of a hand-held jigsaw into the cut and saw the gourd in half. Clean the seeds and dried pulp out of the gourd with a metal spoon. Use sandpaper to smooth the insides.
Saw out eye and mouth holes with a utility knife and a jigsaw. Give the mask an exaggerated facial expression. Cut off the top of a dipper gourd and use a hot-glue gun to attach it to the mask for a phallic nose. Glue possum, rabbit or other wild-game fur under the nose for a mustache. Use the fur to represent bushy eyebrows, goatees, beards and hair.
Stain the mask with natural ingredients. Use pokeberry juice, red clay or bloodroot for shades of red and purple. Apply charcoal, sumac berries and the juice of rotted black walnut or butternut hulls for black markings. Boil butterfly plant roots for yellow stains.
Attach feathers, deer antlers and squirrel or raccoon tails to the top and edges of the mask. Drill a hole on either side of the back of the mask. String an elastic band or twisted hemp or reed fibers to hold the mask tightly on your head.