Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sardinia's Mamuthones, dancing around fire

A while ago I wrote about Mamoiada's Mamuthones, mysterious masks that populate Sardinian carnival. Actually they weren't born as carnival masquerades but to reproduce a propitiatory ritual that is believed to date back 2,000 years.

Academics, historians and all types of researchers are trying to give an explanation to this myth, that still today is shrouded in mystery. Mamuthones are respected and feared figures that remind of Sardinian lost civilisation. They are dressed in black-sheep skin and wear a scary mask: the uglier, the better.

Along with the Mamuthones, also the Issohadores are part of the parade: they lead the Mamuthones and try to grab women with their rope (another ritual: women are the symbol of life).

The first time I saw them was in the occasion of last year's carnival, and I liked it so much that this year I went back for the festival of Sant'Antonio Abbate (Saint Anthony Abbate). According to the Mamuthones themselves, Sant'Antonio Abbate is a much more important and proper occasion, "because the carnival is somehow "hybrid", and we end up mixing with the other masks."

I have to say, seeing Mamuthones and Issohadores dancing around the fires was better than seeing them parading along other masks. The atmosphere was joyful, and children and adults alike were following the mysterious characters, projections of their past, their traditions and their ancestors.

I had booked a room at a guesthouse named "Perda Pintà" (Painted Stone) in honour of a massive stone dating back at least 5,000 years, even prior to the prehistoric civilisation that in Sardinia is known as "nuragica". The stone was found by the owners some ten years ago and Mamoiada's council decided it was best they would keep the stone where they found it, to maintain its original location, but they would have to allow tourists in. In fact, their garden is always open for visitors.

The rooms of the Perda Pintà guesthouse are exquisitely cosy and the cleanest place I've ever been to. Should a guest suffer from insomnia, Maria Giovanna gives a solution: books are available to anyone in every room and hall. The morning continental breakfast comes with a choice of milk, coffee, tea and cakes made by Maria Giovanna herself.

I have shot a *very* rudimentary video (hey, I'm just starting and it's taken with an old little camera), to give you an idea of the ritual and the cheerful atmosphere the Mamuthones can provoke.

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