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Masks of Sardinia & its spectacular folklore 0 Comments

Masks of Sardinia & its spectacular folklore

The masks of the Mamuthones, Issohadores, Boes, and Merdules are among the best known in Sardinia. What perhaps the tourist doesn’t know is that they belonging to two different traditions. 

Mamuthones and Issohadores are typical masks of the Mamoiada Carnival Parade in Sardinia, a traditional festival that maintains its genuine identity, full of folktale, charm and long-standing memories of this ancient Mediterranean island. The two figures of Mamuthones and Issohadores are distinguished by the clothes they are wearing and how they proceed within the parade (if you wish to learn more about Sardinian Carnival festivals follow here).

While the Mamuthones, with the black mask and clothed with black sheepskin and cowbells, proceed wearily yet rhythmic pace, the Issohadores, with a white mask, a red bodice, white shirt and trousers, have a dominant role and animate the procession. They are carrying a rope of twisted yarn used to tie the cattle (so'a), which is giving them the name of "rope carriers" Issohadores.

There are various theories for the origin of the Sardinian name “Mamuthone, one of which is the Mycenaean term with which the Sardinian-Mycenae called the Phoenicians, that is melaneimones, meaning "black faces". Others associate them with ancient rain rites, (mam for 'water' and muth for 'call', therefore "men invoking the rain"). Their origin is lost in the mists of times. Some say it goes back to the Nuraghic Age, to protect themselves from the spirits of evil or to propitiate the crops. Others link it to Dionysian rites and finally to Christian processions. The truth is that today's Mamuthones and Issohadores are in fact the popular evolution of Sardinian history and folklore.

The Boes and the Merdules, instead, belong to the tradition of the Ottana Carnival in the Barbagia Region. They represent the struggle between animal nature and the man’s intelligence, and during the carnival parades the Merdules chases and captures the Boes. The Boes wear on the face a wooden mask resembling an ox, (boe in Sardinian, where their name comes from) clothed with white sheepskins and with a bunch of bells hanging from their neck. The Merdules, the "guardians of the oxen", try to tame the Boes throughout the parade. They are also covered with black or white sheepskin and wear a black mask with the features of an old deform, ugly and grunty man. They fight the Boes with a stick, su Matzuccu, or try to tame them using a leather rope, Sa Soca.

A mask tells us more than a face.” (Oscar Wilde).

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written by Daniela Toti

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