The Carnival masks are a very strong component of the ancient Sardinian tradition. The Sardinian Carnival definitely has pre-Christian origins and today contains obvious components of pagan rites, despite the attempts of the Church to reduce it to simple masquerade or festival before the rites of lent.

Recent theories found the origins of the Sardinian Carnival in Greek rites to the God Dionysus, the God of vegetation. Subsequently, Dionysus represented the component more instinctive, natural and violent of the human soul. The rites to Dionysus served to celebrate the end of winter, to ingratiate the land and to call the water in times of drought. The festivities were cruel: people celebrated sacrifices and orgies, dressed animal-like masks, danced in a convulsed way and drank wine. In Sardinia, the best-known form of Carnival mask, the Mamuthones, invokes both with the name (which may derive from Maimones, the mad, the furious), the appearance (head covered by an animal-like hut, body dressed with animal skins and cowbells), and the dances, the crazed who worshipped God Dionysius until the death. Starting from 700, the Church sought to eliminate these rites, by prohibiting the masks and the most violent celebrations, but it cannot completely eradicate the symbolism of these rites, which has come down to our time.


Mamuthones e Issohadores

Origin: Mamoiada (Nuoro)

Meaning: the origin of these masks is still mysterious. According to some, the Mamuthones represent the Moors won from Sardis and the Issohadores represent the Sardinians winners. Other more compelling theory instead refers to the pre-Christian rites for Dionysus. The Memuthones would be the crazy dancing rhythmically to attain divine status through sacrifice.


Boes e Merdules

Origin: Ottana (Nuoro)

Meaning: even for these masks the meaning is still uncertain. In addition to references to pagan rituals to Dionisio, here is also found the "cult of the ox". The God Bull, representing strength, vitality and fertility, was worshipped with rituals that served to protect against evil spirits and to invoke the fertility of herds. The mask of Su Merdule (top left) served to remind the man do not transcend these animal rites, retaining his human, and not beastly, identity.


Sos Thurpos

Origin: Orotelli (Nuoro)

Meaning: this mask recalls rites of propitiation of the harvest and of the fertility of the Earth. The scene mimics the human that brings the beasts to plough the fields but with a sarcastic tone that would be attributed to the struggle between the farmers and the owners of the pastures. It appears that during the weeks of January, in the village of Orotelli, peasants could tease the landowners with these pantomimes, forcing them to offer a drink.



Origin: Fonni (Nuoro)

Meaning: the mask of the Carnival of Fonni is even more shrouded in mystery than the others. The origins are unknown. Some believe that it represents the God Orcus, God of darkness and deads, present in some archaeological sites in Sardinia.


Su Componidori

Origin: Oristano

Meaning: it is the main mask of the Carnival of Oristano, the Sartiglia (a carousel on horseback). The origin of the mask is unclear; it would be reminiscent, in its original form, of the cult of Dionysus, in one of its many representations. The name Sartiglia was given by the Spanish who turned the original rite in a riding ring race.


... to be continued ...


source: Maschere e Carnevale in Sardegna, Franco Stefano Ruiu.


L'impresa è stata agevolata grazie all’avviso "promuovidea finanziamento nuova impresa" realizzato con il contributo del POR FSE 2007/2013 - Regione Sardegna - Asse II Occupabilità linee di attività e.1.2 ed e.3.1.



C.F. - P.IVA 02775040906


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