and mystery

As part of Autumn in Barbagia, on the 6th and 7th  of November is the amazing opportunity to see the “Mamuthones” procession which usually takes place twice a year, at carnival  on shrove Tuesday, and on the 17th of January.
Carnival in Italy has always been felt and celebrated, it’s an occasion particularly for children to dress up as their favourite hero or princess…I still have my old class photographs immortalizing me as an 8 year old nurse alongside draculas, spidermen, gypsies and much more.
The small village of Mamoiada, approximately 20 km away from Nuoro is renowned for its very own special Carnival, an incredibly mysterious and slightly spooky procession portraying the acclaimed “Mamuthones”.
The feeling of having stepped out of some magic shuttle that has just taken you back in time is unmistakable..  the impression is that of attending an ancient pagan ritual. The Mamuthones masquerades in fact date back to the pre Christian era, they fully portray a deep sense of tradition, typical of  old mountainous populations and extremely rare to find in this day and age.
The procession is characterized by sheepskin clad figures, their faces covered by a black wooden mask , and all walking side by side in a deliberately slow and rhythmic dance , their movements accompanied by the clanging of  thirty odd  bells tied to their backs. Alongside the Mamuthones are the Issohadores, in white and red and wearing a white mask, they appear to dominate and order around the Mamuthones, rather like master and slave..all very intriguing.

As I have just anticipated, the Mamuthones are dressed in black sheepskin coats and bear some 20 kilos or more of bells on their backs, the bells are larger at the top part near the shoulders, and gradually become smaller as they reach the bottom.  The final and most dramatic effect is the dark wooden mask, which worn alongside a hat or a hood definitely gives a theatrical and scary (!) imprint.

No one really knows exactly what the Mamuthones history is,  it is all enveloped in a blanket of mystery. The most common belief is that the procession takes place in the Carnival period (February), as in the past the ritual was to wish well for the new harvest in the passing from the winter to the summer months. There is no explanation as to why these rather disturbing creatures are dressed in sheepskins and wearing dark masks; the enigma simply increases the theory is that the dark masks indicated the tanned skin of the farm labourers.

The event is unique in its genre and definitely worth if in Sardinia do go to Mamoiada the first weekend of November, as well as the extraordinary procession there are lots of gastronomical stops (tappas) to delight in. A visit to the “Museo delle Maschere” exhibiting all the different masks is also recommended. Mask makers will even be present at the inauguration on Friday afternoon, the 5th of November.

The inauguration takes place on Saturday 5th of November at 5.00pm with local goods and products and the presence of mask makers. For further information please see the website: Pro Loco – tel. 0784 569032

Saturday 6th November at 4.00 pm – Atzeni-Beccoi:
Mamuthones and Issohadores procession

Sunday 7th November at 4.00 pm – Pro Loco
Mamuthones and Issohadores procession

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