Monday 3 March 2014

Mamuthones in Mamoiada

A Mamuthone at the Mamoiada carnival
Carnival is celebrated all over Sardinia, and each region celebrates it differently. By far the most authentically Sardinian carnival is the one held in the small town of Mamoiada in the Sardinian province of Nuoro.

The Mamoiada carnival is famous for its "Mamuthones" and "Issohadores". The Mamuthones are intimidating looking characters; locals dress in wooden masks, black sheepskins and cow bells for the transformation from man to beast. They never speak, but as they parade through the streets they perform a slow stomping dance which makes the bells the wear on their backs ring. The "Issohadores" are lighter, more frivolous characters dressed in red, white and black who dance through the streets and lasso the prettiest local women. Historically, they would also capture the local landowners who would then invite the whole group into their home and provide them with food and wine.
Unlike the carnival festivities in Bosa which are characterised by wild street parties, the carnival in Mamoiada is a more serious, ritualised affair rooted strongly in local traditions.

Micro Issohadores in Mamoiada
We were lucky enough to find the youngest of only seven local residents who still hand carve the traditional Mamuthone masks; he's passionate about his town and his traditions and was happy to spend time explaining the ceremony to us. It seems that the true origins are lost in the mists of time, something that is sadly not unusual for a small town where stories have been passed down orally and only written down relatively recently.

One school of thought has the Mamuthones representing the shepherds of Barbagia (the mountains of Sardinia) and the Issohadores as the Saracen invaders who tried and failed to conquer the area. Others say it's a rite designed to ward off evil spirits and ensure good harvests, and there are those who say the Mamuthones represent bulls and the Issohadores are there to tame and domesticate them. It's also been said that the Mamuthones in their heavy sheepskins represent the winter giving way to the lighter, more cheerful springtime. One thing everybody does seem to agree on however is that the traditions of Mamuthones and Issohadores is an ancient one, dating back hundreds and maybe even thousands of years.

Until as late as the 1990's, the Mamuthone tradition was a purely local event, unknown to outsiders and the event has changed somewhat over the last 20 years due to tourists flocking to the tiny town both from other areas of Sardinia and abroad to witness it first hand. It's still an amazing insight into the culture, history and traditions of the region and very worth a visit.

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