Carnival in Sardinia is a matter of euphoria. A colourful event of dances, grotesque masks, live performances and flavours that shake the day-to-day life in Sardinia, with no limits. The Sardinian Carnival has no religious meaning, and its roots refer to very ancient times and uncertain origins: it sounds like one of those things that has always being there.
Carnival begins the 17th of January from Ottana, the small village hosting the popular fireworks event (so-called Fuochi di Sant’Antonio Abate), and it goes on until late February, with a peak on the so-called Giovedì and Martedì Grasso (Thursday and Tuesday). The gatherings involve the whole island, with different peculiarities according to the traditions in place in each location. In order to discover the most suggestive appointments of the Sardinian Carnival, visitors have to explore the region of Barbagia, where the Carnival is populated by some of the most mysterious and suggestive “creatures”.
Mamoiada. Small town few minutes far from Nuoro, Mamoiada is home for the key players of the Sardinian Carnival, the so called Mamuthones and Issohadores. Here it takes place one of the most spectacular gatherings of the whole season: in fact, for three days and three nights the streets of the town and its main square become the venues of the widespread event. People would get easily amazed while looking at the choreographic beauty of traditional dances, whose names are so difficult to pronounce: "su passu torràu", "su sàrtiu" and "su dillu". When the event reaches its peak, the long-awaited masks of the Sardinian tradition get on stage, Mamuthones and Issohadores: the former keeping the line orderly, while the latter being slightly undisciplined, in their white clothing.
The end of the parade is announced by the arrival of the hand-cart carrying the so-called “Juvanne Martis Sero”, the woody puppet wearing traditional clothes, with the crowd walking along the hand-cart’s way in the act of crying for his legendary death. This collective performance is symbolic of the pain suffered because of the end of the Carnival. As a remedy for the widespread grief, visitors are offered typical Sardinian treats such as home-made sweets, a typical dish with broad beans cocked within pig-meat, to taste along with a glass of (…not exactly super-soft…) local wine "vinu nigheddu".
Ottana. What makes the Carnival in Ottana so special, is the parade of its main characters, "Sos Merdules" and "Sos Boes", literally the shepherds and the steers. These traditional masks steam from the bucolic and pastoral cultures, bringing the memory back to times when the economy of small towns like Ottana used to rely on those sectors (and this lasted at least the late Seventies). These hand-carved wooden masks look threatening in order to keep the devil away as well as the bad luck.
From the 16th of Janary, the Merdules take the streets of the town, and their presence is announced by the heavy noise of cowbell dangling from their traditional cloths. The Boes wear white sheepskin costumes, and often they make chaos within the crowd. It may happen to see sketches in which the Merdules beat the laziest Boes when they refuse to work. Also, during the parade it may happen to see an old, ugly and dark-dressed woman hanging around: the so-called "Ilonzana" is considered to be in charge of the humans’ destiny. According to the tradition, she could kill anyone who is enough brave to refuse to buy her a drink. Be carful!
[Photocredit: Dario Sequi]