Image: Korean Hahoe mask

Korean Hahoe mask

Hahoe mask used in the traditional Korean mask dance Tal-chum or play Tal-nori.

These mask dance dramas have ritual and religious significance and include masked characters portraying people, animals and supernatural beings. Dances can vary considerably according to region and performer, but all share basic themes of exorcism, ritual dance, satire, and parody of human weakness, social evils and the privileged upper classes. The masks offered performers the freedom to anonymously express these criticisms.

There are 12 Hahoe mask types – this particular mask represents the Yangban, or aristocrat. Nine of these Hahoe masks have been designated as Cultural Treasures of Korea. The other three designs have been lost.

Only men wore the masks and performed in plays. Traditionally, the performances had no set time and could last for a few hours to all night. Today, they are more structured and only last an hour or so.

The mask dance drama was generally performed on the First Full Moon, Buddha's Birthday on the Eighth of the Fourth Moon, Dano Festival and Chuseok. Variations may have been performed at festive state occasions.

The first tal-chum performances probably took place sometime during the Three Kingdoms Period, 18 BCE to 935 CE. By the late Koryo Period, in the 12th to 14th centuries CE, tal-chum had emerged in the form it is known today.

Fran Dorey
© Australian Museum

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