Sardinia is made of a Beauty that cannot be understood without knowing its ancient traditions and the magic in which many of its inhabitants still believe. Carnival is the time of the year when the whole world wears masks but in this case we are talking about something deeper.
"In Sardinia, among people who have remained secluded and almost isolated from the rest of the world, a primitive faculty of mixing reality with legend and dream persists, more than in other regions."
"Su Karrasecare" (Carnival in the Sardinian language) has many faces and, thanks to the careful work of the Pro Loco (the local association handling tourism and related activities) and the memory of the elderly, this great cultural heritage has not been forgotten. The celebrations start every year on January 16th with the bonfires of Sant'Antonio Abate and many villages of the island become the scene of different pagan rituals. The fight between man and nature is the most recurrent theme and the common denominator is almost always the long agricultural and pastoral tradition, with two great protagonists: the masks and the horse. In some cities you can find allegorical floats similar to the more "classical" carnivals, but the charm of mysterious creatures and equestrian rides has no equal.
The heart of Sardinia, between the mountains of Ogliastra and Barbagia, seems to be the perfect theater for legends and mysterious rituals, thanks to the conformation of the rocks that cast shadows similar to the silhouettes of strange creatures. Here, those who dress up as demons and half-man/half-beast beings tell of having the strong sensation of no longer understanding whether it is they who are wearing the mask or the opposite; in fact, the dressing up itself is a very scrupulous religious-pagan ceremony, experienced as a sort of "metamorphosis".
A recurring divinity in Sardinian mythology and culture is Su Maimoni: the god of rain is invoked as a thousand years ago in Ogliastra and in some villages of Barbagia by a population that suffered terrible droughts, and his representation reappears with different names in rituals of various towns. The masks of Su Maimoni parade through the streets of Tertenia, chanting: "Maimone Maimone abbacheret su laòre abbacheret su siccau, Maimone laudau"! (Maimone, Maimone the wheat asks for water, the dried asks for water, Maimone lauded!) and other figures make their appearance in all this while the slow dancing of the masks with their cadenced rhythm hopes that nature will be benevolent.
In Mamoiada a sound of cowbells can be heard advancing in the distance on heavy steps in unison: they are the Mamuthones, the most famous variant of the deity, with their slow and solemn gait, the best known of all the masks of Sardinia. "Sa visera", with its dark anthropomorphic features, covers the face, the body is dressed in black sheep fur and heavy cowbells and there is a strikling contrast with the other protagonist of the same Carnival: the Issohadores. They differ in clothing and movements, wearing a white wooden mask, the traditional black cloth cap, red jacket and white trousers. They are two protagonists of the same ritual, who parade through the streets of the village in two parallel rows: the first ones, slow, silent, dark and heavy, create a sort of unison dance, a "danced procession", and from time to time they perform three quick jumps on themselves; the Issohadores are agile, colorful and elegant, and unlike the Mamuthones they interact with the public by throwing "sa soha" (their rope) among the people.
This is a constant of many "Karrasecare": the inseparable duality of two different figures that would not make sense without each other. And so Urthos and Buttudos are the souls of the carnival of Fonni, of which the first embody the god of the dead and darkness and the second are their guardians. The Urthos appear with usually white sheepskin and their arms and visage covered with soot and mighty, agile and strong they drag the Buttudos, trying to climb everywhere. In Ottana, Boes and Merdules celebrate the punic-nuragic divinity of the bull and the man who tries to tame the beast. Next to them, the Filonzana wanders through the crowd threatening to cut the thread of life, wrapped around her spindle. From under their red cork masks they simulate the voice of the wind, like the laments of souls in pain, the Bundos of Orani, "the son and the god of the wind": dressed in "orbace" (a typical Sardinian woollen fabric), blacks represent evil, whites good.
Leaving behind the slow pace of the Mamuthones, we come to the traditions of the Sardinian Carnival that celebrate the other sacred element of agro-pastoral life: the horse, with acrobatics and reckless races. The most famous of all is the Sartiglia of Oristano, which is staged on the last Sunday and Tuesday of Carnival: the Sunday carousel is run by the Gremio (ancient corporation) of the Peasants, the Tuesday one by the Gremio of the Carpenters. The central figure is Su Componidori who, after a solemn ceremony of dressing, will be the first to launch himself into a wild gallop along the street of the cathedral, the "corsa alla stella" (race to the star), trying to pierce the star first with his sword and then with "su stoccu" (a wooden lance), and then it will be the turn of the other knights chosen by him. Each pierced star is an omen of a good harvest. Then it is the turn of the "pariglie", where the knights in groups of three perform reckless acrobatics amid trumpet blasts and drum rolls.
The mask worn by Su Componidori and the knights also recalls mythical and sacred values. It has androgynous features and it is a single piece of wood carved and painted with earth-colored or white paint according to the two Gremi and, together with the dress and the hair, it transforms the wearer into a divinity who has the power to bless the crowd (for this reason Su Componidori cannot get off his horse while wearing the mask).
In the province of Oristano, in Santo Lussurgiu, there is Sa Carrela 'e Nanti, an equestrian carnival characterized by a "pariglia" horse race among the most reckless of the island, where the riders run at great speed along a dirt road about 350 meters long downhill with the aim of completing the whole race "united", with the arm of one on the arm of the other. They always originate from Santu Lussurgiu and traditionally wear masks or have their faces painted. The event takes place over three days and the crowd is also an integral part of the event: it opens just before the horses arrive and closes immediately afterwards.
The sun goes down on the Mamuthones and on the other creatures. Their gloomy faces give way once again to human features and they return to their daily lives. That mask, however, is there hanging on the wall of many houses, as if to remind us that the spirits and magical creatures of Sardinia are always present in the air, in the earth, in the soul of this island between magic and reality and in the wind that still seems to carry the sound of cowbells in the distance.
Unfortunately, due to the current pandemic, all this wonderful Sardinian cultural heritage will not be able to take its usual space in 2021.
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