The tradition of carnival in Sardinia
A thousand-year tradition
In many Sardinian countries, especially those of Barbagia, to mention the most important Mamoiada, Ottana, Orotelli, Samugheo, and so on, every year, starting from 17 January, a Carnival out of the ordinary is celebrated. The lowest common denominator at the base of all manifestations is the agro-pastoral root. Although each country has its own particularities, with different names and different rituals, the various Sardinian Carnivals all again repropose the ancestral struggle of man with nature, which symbolizes a magical force with which the human being must necessarily confront himself to ensure the survival of one’s own communities. The carnival in Sardinia is therefore ancient and full of charm, evokes mysterious and archaic rites (mostly referred to the Venione of Dionysus). The streets of the villages are animated by processions with figures that have anthropomorphic or zoomorphic features, which often involve all the spectators, making them participate in the performance of the ceremony. So let’s look at what happens in the countries with the most characteristic rites.
The tradition of Mamoiada
The Mamuthones and Issohadores are the typical masks of Mamoiada. The Mamuthones, when they parade, create a representation that takes on a solemn appearance, which almost symbolizes a religious procession that mixes with the dance. They are arranged in number of twelve, just like the months of the year, and they walk in two parallel rows with a rhythmic pitch that allows the rattle of bells that carry on their shoulders to resound. During the ceremony of dressing they will wear clothes of sheepskin and will cover the face with “sa bisera” (the pear wood mask). The Issohadores, close to them, through the most graceful footsteps and skips, give rhythm to the Mamuthones’ dance and with sudden leaps throw the wicker string (“sa soha“) on the crowd that assists enchanted to the ritual, capturing men and women. If one is taken by the snare, it is said to be a good omen. Ancestral and wonderful rite, certainly not to be missed.
The tradition of Orotelli
In the village of Orotelli the ritual is different. The typical mask is that of the Thurpos, which means the “blind“. They walk through the streets of the town dressed in a long black-robed overcoat that hides the blackened face of soot with the aid of a hood. The Thurpos parade in bonded pairs, the Thurpo “massaiu” and the Thurpo “boe”, or the farmer and the ox, which are controlled by su Voinarzu, the master. With small cadenced jumps and heavy movements they roam the country looking for a friend or an acquaintance, or even a stranger to be taken prisoner: these will then, according to tradition, offer a drink to everyone. The capture of the prisoner represents ancient rituals, linked to the world governed by Dionysus. The Dionysian ceremonials were in fact propitiation rites that staged the peasant-ox fight against the elements of nature.
The tradition of Ottana
The carnival event that takes place in Ottana is still different. The typical masks are the Boes and the Merdules representing the oxen and the peasants respectively. The ancestral ritual that they put in place recalls images and episodes of the ancient rural life. The masks are organized in groups or they spontaneously associate and parade through the streets of the village, rhythmically shaking the heavy load of bells tied to the back. Their face is covered by a mask made of wild pear wood, which takes on the appearance of zoomorphic nobles of oxen or anthropomorphic peasants or deformed shepherds who were intended to divert evil from the community.
The other fundamental mask of the Carnival of Ottana is “Sa Filonzana“, an old hump that runs separately through the streets of the village dressed in black, threatening to cut the thread of man’s life, which hangs from his distaff. This ritual is also very symbolic and anyone who participates will witness an unprecedented show.
The tradition of Samugheo
Even the Samugheo carnival evokes Dionysian rites. The traditional mask is “S’Urtzu“, held for life by “Su Omadore“, who is his guardian. During the ritual occasionally S’Urtzu falls to the ground, simulating what will be the passion before the death of the animal. The Mamutzones, however, are dressed in skins and with a mask of cork with horns and impersonate followers of Dionysus, trying to reach the ecstasy to make themselves equal to the god himself. They dance around S’Urtzu and some of them, to witness even more intensely the bond with the Dionysian world, hold in their hands a stick surrounded by periwinkle or ivy, which almost entirely resumes the Bacchic thyrsus.
The tradition of Oristano
The Sartiglia is perhaps the most spectacular and choreographic Sardinian carnival event. The name derives from the Latin sorticola, which means ring, but can also be diminutive of “sors”, fortune. The rite is based on a race to the ring, an equestrian joust linked in a predominant way to luck, to pagan rites that are propitiators of fertility of the earth. The Sartiglia takes place in two days, Carnival Sunday and in this case takes place under the protection of St. John the Baptist and the ceremonial phases are organized and directed by the Guild of Farmers, on Tuesday the rites are by the Guild of Carpenters, under the protection of St. Joseph. The protagonist is su Componidori, the knight, whose name derives from the Spanish, called “componedor”. The party begins with a long ritual of dressing the head-run that, sitting on a wooden table, from that moment can no longer touch the ground until the end of the day. The women, “is Massaieddas“, led by the “Massaia manna” (the housewife), wear the knight in a white shirt, trousers and “cojettu” of leather, a gilet used in ancient times as a work dress by the artisans. Finally, he covers his face with an androgynous mask held firm by a bandage, then adorns his head with a bridal veil and a black cylinder. Su Componidori becomes a sort of demigod, combining the male and female figures together. Before the races of pairs that will follow until late evening in the hope of taking the star, on Componidori will have to try “sa remada“: or lying back on the back of the horse will have to gallop the trail, blessing the crowd.
A characteristic tradition of the Carnival of Oristano is then Sa Sartigliedda on Monday dedicated to children. It is a Sartiglia reserved for children, who mount the famous Giara horses.