BY HANNAH HORN
A lot of our cultures are built off of ancient pagan rituals presented in different religions dating back to more than 2,000 years old; the monsters of Italy being among the topics to discuss. Sardinia’s ancient Mamuthones are a traditional mask worn for Sardinia’s eye-catching carnival. Though these customs are much more than getting dressed, it is a very personal metamorphosis for every participant.
These characters dress in different colored thick sheep hair, black masks, and will gladly carry the weight of 60 pounds of cattle bells on their body (to scare away evil spirits) despite the lack of oxygen while on their journey of honor. Many people are not allowed to witness the dressing, but when they do, they will see men circling a bonfire while strapping bells on their back. After the chimes of the bells sound how they wish, the mask is finally put on. There is a big difference for these unique European individuals when it comes to simply being Mamuthones and actually becoming one.
These peculiar creatures are not the only character in this festival, there is another known as “Issohadore,” who are in charge of the rituals and the Mamuthones in it. The Issohadores wears a bright red waistcoat, a colorful headdress, white mask, white shirt/trousers, gold buttons, shawl, leather boots, and a belt of bronze bells. They are to protect their beasts from all harm or evil, carrying rope lassos known as sohas, to also wrangle a pretty women’s interest. These characters complement each other, as the Mamuthones do not interact with the crowd with slow, heavy steps and the Issohadores skips across the road vivaciously.
The “nightmares” will begin their showings in a town known as Mamoiada or Ottana, Italy on every seventeenth of January, which is the saint day of Sant’Antonio Abate, while dozens of bonfires blaze as the spiritual individuals dance all night long. The saint is meant to be the protector of animals and fire, meaning the bonfires that are lit each year is meant to resemble purification and renewal for the upcoming seasons. At the end of the parade, everyone returns to undress and become men again. At this time, anyone is welcomed to join, and the wine begins to flow.
No one really knows of a Mamuthones origin. They have existed in Mamoiada for so long that people believe the town took the name itself. These individuals full-hearted bleed “born to be Mamuthones.” It is considered a collective soul for Sardinia, especially since this festival occurs more than once throughout the year. One of the many interpretations of this carnival is the pace of the Mamuthones being seen as a pre-christian dance in sport of the vegetation God, Dionysus, who dies in winter and is reborn in spring to bring rain and fertility. Another belief is that the Mamuthones are an animal metaphor with bells showing a bond between the shepherd and animal, their shared destiny of field working, and mountain roaming. Another example that is among the popular is that the parade exemplifies what came of Sardinia’s history, with the bells being the domination of land, the Issohadores being the exotic invaders, while the Mamuthones are the Sardinian prisoners shaking their bells of pain and suffering.
The locals are content with their Mamuthones continuing on their tradition. Every ancient parade still lives on in many museums which hold Sardinia’s best costumes or masks, statues, and even frescoes on walls. Though, it can be a little terrifying to see these costumes while exploring the monolithic stones of the Sardinian people on the holiday’s off season, but it is otherworldly when you see the event in person.
Would you like to have your very own Mamathunones mask? There are actually some homemade masks available on Etsy!
Here are some links, in the event you’d like to become otherwordly yourself.