Masks that reign supreme in the Lazarim Carnival

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Masks that reign supreme in the Lazarim Carnival

They impress for their originality, attention to detail and craftsmanship behind them. Carved in alder wood and left in their original colour, the Lazarim masks are the main Carnival attraction in this Lamego town. Adão Almeida, 49, is one​...

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They impress for their originality, attention to detail and craftsmanship behind them. Carved in alder wood and left in their original colour, the Lazarim masks are the main Carnival attraction in this Lamego town.

Adão Almeida, 49, is one of the artisans who, year in, year out, make masks for the caretos  to be able to “play Carnival”. He decided he would take up this craft when a friend of his showed up with a wooden mask borrowed from his uncle.

“It was painted in red and we started to look at it as a new mask because my friends and I were used to going out with lace, rabbit fur or a pig’s bladder over our heads,” he recounts.

That same evening, he asked his father for an adze, picked up a chisel and “off he was making a mask”. The following year, at the age of only 17, he won an anisette bottle for the best mask, a prize awarded by the Local Council.

Primacy of tradition

The skill of woodcarving is visible in the gestures cultivated for a lifetime. "I started to get involved with this and I liked it more and more. I'll always be inventing, but I’ll never stop making the Devil and the lady. "These masks are irreplaceable, because in the old days "they could never be missing from the streets".

Today, along with masks that represent animals, kings and queens, there are caricatures of public figures. However, Adão is proud to preserve the identity of the Lazarim Carnival.

"I make imitation work, but not for Carnival. Our ancestors made peasants, animals, donkeys, pigs, but they wouldn’t touch political caricatures," he says.

The surly and/or demonic expressions are accented by pointed ears, sharp horns, goatee beards, snakes or lizards. "The most characteristic are the horns associated with the Devil, the big nose, slanted eyes, the very long sharp chin. The Lady has earrings and a wig. "

Creative inspirations

To get his raw materials, Adão has to cut the wood in September and October. He has to "walk with trunks on my back climbing boulders" and it is starting to get harder to find alder.

On returning home, he cuts the trunks in half to "make two masks." Already on the bench, Adão is aided by various sizes of chisel and gouge, an adze, a Stanley knife and the idea.

"I never make a drawing. I imagine it in my head and I make the first cut for the nose and eyes. Then I invent from memory, and I constantly make improvements," he says categorically.

The meticulous and persistent work on the wood is already part of his routine: "On Saturdays this is usually my hobby and in the evenings, when I get home from work".

Once the features of the mask are carved, Adão uses sandpaper to make it smooth, but formerly it would have been polished with glass. At the back, the mask has a string to fasten it to the face of the careto and the artist’s signature.

The simplest piece takes him five days, but he has had jobs that occupied him for nearly a month. The minimum weight of each mask is three to four kilos.

From prohibition to revelry

Before the revolution of 25 April 1974, the Carnival "was banned" because it was a pagan festival. "The priest, the mayor and the others would not allow it. If a careto went out on the street, there were problems. The police or the mayor would come and arrest him. They would impose large fines, but the people always wanted to have the Carnival. "
The festival of Carnival was regarded as a release from the rules of a society dominated by the austere control of the Church. The mask helped to conceal the identity, legitimising the excessive behaviour of the revellers.

Forbidden to women and children, the celebrations had violent overtones. "Any old man would put on a mask in order to pick a fight. They would put on a mask to exact vengeance on a friend. Now, Carnival is a more lively and fun".

Adão still recalls an incredible incident from his childhood where during "a big ruckus, the police arrested the caretos and then the people started attacking the police."

Working in the diaspora

At Carnival, Adão has to have 12 to 18 masks made, but this year it was only nine. Depending on the work involved, each mask can cost between 240 to 350 euros. The miniatures, of course, end up being "more saleable".

The buyers are Portuguese, Spaniards, French and Italians, and 70% of sales are made after the Carnival. "I already have masks in museums in Brussels, Japan, Macau, France and Italy," he says.

Text: Patrícia Posse | Daniel Faiões 

Adão Almeida
Av. Liga dos Melhoramentos
5100-584 Lazarim – Lamego
+351 967 090 654