The Mamuthones

One of the most famous and oldest festivals in Sardinia is the Mamuthones festival in Mamoïada, a village in the heart of Barbagia in the province of Nuoro. This parade has been studied several times, notably by Raffaello Marchi. We find there an agrarian and pastoral rite in its original simplicity which evokes the cult of the chthonic creative forces of nature directly from the life of the proto Sardinians.

Mamuthones feast

Mamuthones Festival

The Mamuthones are dressed in a curious outfit consisting of white pants, knee socks, a sort of short skirt, a red corselet over a shirt and a skin vest worn with the hair on the side. outside called mastruca, they are wearing a black berritta held up by a scarf tied on the chin.

On their backs and necks they wear bells (sa garriga). Their face is covered with a black wooden mask (sa bisera). We find masks of the same inspiration in a few other Sardinian villages, notably in Ottana (merdules, cattle masks) but also in other regions (Sicily, Greece, Trace, Istria, Slovenia, Alps, Pyrenees, etc.) and in other continents.

The Mamuthones parade in a slow dance step, ringing the bells in rhythm. They are flanked by the Issocadores who wear a sort of cap with ribbons, large baggy blue pants, a white shirt and a red waistcoat, sometimes a shawl tied at the waist, they do not wear bells, masks or mastruca.

They hold in their hands a sort of whip or whip or lasso (soca) which they throw in the audience so as to catch friends, children, young girls, etc. shouting satirical jokes. If the person is taken it will be an auspicious sign.

On the occasion of the feast of Saint Anthony, patron and protector of peasants and shepherds, on January 17, the procession leaves in groups of 12 mamuthones accompanied by 8 issocadorres. Once again they return to the streets of this agricultural town on the last Sunday of Carnival and for Mardi Gras.

The word Mamuthones can be compared to other words from Barbagia:

  • Maimone: demon, bacchic idol of the Carnival who dies on Mardi Gras,
  • Mamucone, mountainous area near Mamoïada,
  • Mamudine: place where there are caves guarded by spirits,
  • Mamujone: name of a source from which the name of Mamoïada is derived.

This pagan holiday is very old and it is given different meanings.
The victory of the inhabitants of the interior against the Saracen invaders, taken prisoner and led in procession to become slaves of the shepherds.

Or, it could be traced back to a ritual of Nuraghi civilization in honor of a pastoral agricultural god.
Or, to a rite of placing under the yoke of the ox.

Other interpretations link this festival to Dionysian fertility rituals as in other Mediterranean civilizations.

There are those who see in the mask of the Mamuthones the effigy of a demonic spirit.