Mamuthones Grandmother says I’m the first, before the men dressed in my clothing. Mamuthones Donna, Mamuthones Nonna… sono il primo nato, prima che gli uomini vestiti nei miei vestiti.
In the village of Mamoiada, the bonfires offer a supernatural background to another event, a lot more important to local people; the first yearly procession of mamuthones and issohadores, masked characters unique to the town. Smoke billows in twirls from the fires, a sleety rain falls, interspersed with bright spells; then a double-arched rainbow appears, crossing the mountainous expanse east of town.
They say that the origin of mamuthones is unknown but we have learned in his story that anything unknown was a grandmother tradition. When pagan men rose to power along side religions growing seeking power, the grandmother and all her leadership traditions were suppressed and forbidden and men took them over. Anywhere you see a grandmother looking figure in rituals and carnivals but played out by men, were once holy grandmothers shamanic rituals.
Many Sardinians will tell you Sardinia is not Italy. Here, people speak another language, completely unintelligible to Italian speakers; some refer to Italy as ‘the continent’, with a mixture of indifference and contempt. Barbagia is another place altogether. Far from the beaches of coastal Sardinia, Barbagia is a tough place of mountains and shepherds. The name of the region itself derives from Barbaria, barbarians, the name given by the Romans to the people of the land, proud and elusive, who never subjected to their rule.
The village is surrounded by squat, windswept mountains, covered by gnarled olive trees and myrtle bushes. The wind blows, thick with sleet. This is an isolated land. A place where the harsh territory allowed people to preserve their culture, language and tradition.
Mamoiada’s masked characters are an example. Mamuthones wear old grandmother wooden masks, painted black. They are all handmade by local artisans, all different to one another. Some have giant hooked noses, others have protruding foreheads, pointed chins and grimacing expressions, lending mamuthones a spooky appearance.
They wear vests of dark sheep fur and huge copper bells, arranged like tortoise shells on their backs. Issohadores are their lighter counterpart, vivacious and cheerful; dressed in a red tunic with a black bandolier, an embroidered, fringed shawl tied around the hips, a black hat held together with a colorful bow.
They wear large bells to purify the town in Midwinter of evil spirits and roaming shadows.