The Carnival of Mamoiada: history, anecdotes and information on dates and program
The Carnival of Mamoiada is an event with mysterious origins. It takes place in the homonymous municipality and attracts thousands of tourists every year.
In the center of Barbagia, a few kilometers away from the Gennargentu massif and the Orgosolo Supramonte, is Mamoiada. In this small town every year a Carnival takes place, attracting thousands of tourists even from outside Sardinia. Indeed, it is one of the most popular events of Sardinian folklore. The credit goes also to the traditional masks: the Mamuthones and the Issohadores.
The history of the Carnival of Mamoiada
The Carnival of Mamoiada is also known as ‘the dance of the Mamuthones’, in honor of one of the typical masks. Its origins are not clear. There are numerous hypotheses in this regard, but none have been really proven. According to some Sardinian historians, the rite dates back to the Nuragic age. The purpose could have been the veneration of animals, as a protection from evil spirits and to propitiate the harvest. However, there are different theories, which would place this festival in other moments of Sardinian history.
From the anthropological point of view, that of Mamoiada is a Barbagian Carnival, therefore it is linked to the cycles of death and rebirth of nature. The relationship between men and animals recalled the economic and social system of Barbagia, based on pastoralism and breeding. The rite re-proposed this in a grotesque way, with archaic rituals of exorcization and horrid masks.
Despite their frightening appearance, people used to offer food and drink to these masks. In fact, they recognized their power to influence the harvest and therefore the survival of the community.
The masks of the Carnival of Mamoiada
As we said above, the masks of the Mamoiada Carnival are the Mamuthones and the Issohadores.
The former wear black masks made of alder and wild pear wood that shows a suffering or impassive expression. They also wear sheepskin clothes and on their backs they carry ‘sa carriga’, that is 30 kg cowbells tied with leather straps.
Until a few years ago, shepherds used to lend their cowbells to the Mamuthones, taking them from their animals. The cowbells are called ‘sonazzos’ and are built by the artisans of Tonara using the femur bones of sheep, goats, donkeys or other animals.
As for the Issohadores, they wear linen shirts, red jackets, white breeches and feminine shawls. Over the shoulder they carry brass and bronze bells. Some of them wear white anthropomorphic masks.
Carnival of Mamoiada: the events
One of the most appreciated moments of the Carnival of Mamoiada is the dressing of the Mamuthones. After dressing, they parade in groups of twelve (like the months of the year), led by the Issohadores. The latter parade in groups of eight, following complex choreographies, so much so that dancers usually learn them as children.
Mamuthones and Issohadores parade together, giving life to a solemn ceremony that almost looks like a procession. The former move very slowly, because of the heavy cowbells. In the meantime, the others move faster and beat the rhythm by shaking the shoulder and making the bells ring. Moreover, at some point the Issohadores throw a rope, ‘sa soha’, to catch some of the bystanders. To free themselves, the prisoners have to offer a drink to them.
As for the masks, there are two events to remember. The first falls on January 16 and 17, when the Mamuthones and Issohadores make their appearance during the feast of Saint Anthony. The second is the entire period of Carnival, in particular Shrove Tuesday. On Shrove Tuesday you can also attend the procession of Juvanne Martis Sero. During this procession, costumed men (called ‘zios’ and ‘zias’) carry around Juvanne’s puppet, mourning his death.
Dates and program of the Carnival
The promoters are still updating the calendar of events. However, they have already confirmed two days:
– Sunday, February 27: dances in the main square and parade of the Mamuthones and Issohadores;
– Tuesday, March 1: dances in the main square, parade of the Mamuthones and Issohadores, allegorical floats and masked groups, procession of Juvanne Martis Sero, Favata.
4 reasons to attend the Mamoiada Carnival
As already mentioned, the Mamoiada Carnival is one of the oldest traditions in Sardinia.
Therefore, it is an excellent opportunity to find out more about the island’s cultural heritage. Besides the folkloric aspects, there are other reasons to attend it.
1) The local cuisine
Sardinia has a specific culinary tradition, linked to the territory and seasonality. During the Carnival, in Mamoiada it is possible to taste different typical dishes, such as the broad bean soup.
Then, there are plenty of desserts: Ulurjones de mendula, Orulettas and Hathas are just some examples.
Finally, there is never a shortage of wine, especially Cannonau.
The people of Mamoiada usually offer desserts and wine to friends and acquaintances during the Carnival. But if wine is your great passion, then you should definitely visit the local wineries.
2) The architectural heritage
In Mamoiada and its surroundings there are several lovely churches.
The main one is the medieval Church of Our Lady of Loreto. Among the rural churches are the Church of Loret’Attesu (18th century) and the sanctuary of SS. Cosma and Damiano (7th century). The sanctuary houses 14 glazed ceramic tiles depicting the Stations of the Cross. They were made in Spain in the 18th century but became known worldwide in 1998, on the occasion of the Way of the Cross of Pope John Paul II at the Colosseum, broadcasted on TV.
3) The archaeological sites
In the territory of Mamoiada there are several remains of ancient civilizations.
The typical example are the Nuraghi, megalithic edifices. Then, there are the Menhirs, such as the ‘Sa perda Pintà’, which is unique for the cupels and the engravings on its surface.
Finally, the numerous ‘Domus de Janas’, small tombs carved into the granite in the Neolithic-Pre-Nuragic period. One of these is located right next to the Loret’Attesu Church.
4) The parties
Although the Parade of Mamuthones and Issohadores is the main event, the Carnival of Mamoiada includes much more. From the traditional round dance in the main square to the allegorical floats, from organized groups in costumes to common people wearing mask.
In short, throughout the Carnival, Mamoiada turns into a large outdoor party that involves the whole population. And you can be part of it!