Mamuthones and Issohadores

Folklorisation and charm

The rediscovery of Sardinian masks

The first studies of the Carnival tradition in Sardinia are recent. The first to talk about it was Raffaello Marchi, a historian from Nùoro, who, in 1951, proposed that the ceremony could refer to a victory of the Barbary shepherds (the Issohadores) over the Moors (the Mamuthones). Over time the hypotheses have multiplied, and today the celebrations have undergone a massive but respectful folklorisation. For years, in fact, the Carnivals of Sardinia have no longer been limited only to the villages, but have grown into evocative and fascinating events attracting thousands of tourists every year, from the rest of the island and from the whole world.

Mamuthones and Issohadores

The protagonists of the Mamoiada carnival

One of the most solid beliefs among Mamoiadins is that without Mamuthones and Issohadores, there can be no Carnival – a belief that tells of the importance attributed to the celebration, culminating in the dressing of the mask, sa visera. It is then that the protagonists lose identity and speech, and begin the parade that goes from afternoon into late evening, being careful to drink and eat very little, possibly in memory of the fast, historically linked to the day. The ritual of the masks of Mamoiada has undergone several and numerous overlapping of meanings over time, which refer to different historical moments, in a constant intertwining of historical and mythological time. It is likely that the celebration originated in the pre-Christian agro-pastoral environment, as an apotropaic rite used to drive away evil spirits from people and livestock, at a time when there was a very different conception of life and death from the one that came introduced later by Christianity. Over time, these ancestral meanings were superimposed onto others, but even today, the rite of Mamuthones and Issohadores preserves the memory of the ancient ceremony that Christianity later discredited as an allegory and carnival masquerade.


The most famous of Sardinian masks

The Mamuthone is undoubtedly the most recognisable mask of the Mamoiadian carnival and, perhaps, that of Sardinia. Clothing is rich and characteristic: a dark velvet suit topped with su bonette, a masculine headdress; the black mastruca called sa pedde; hand-tanned leather shoes – sos husinzos; and again sa visera, the black and wooden anthropomorphic mask covered by su mucadore. But, even better known, is sa càrriga, the cluster of cowbells and rattles distributed on the body of the Mamuthones, often weighing as much as 25 kg. Some anthropologists have a fascinating interpretation of the heavy step of the Mamuthones, which seems to vigorously trample the earth as if to urge its productive awakening; a movement that generates the characteristic noise, whose volume is increased by the choreographic parade.


The eight keepers of the Mamoiada Carnival

The Issohadores are less numerous than the Mamuhtones, and they arrange themselves in an apparently disordered way: one of them is at the head of the two rows, one in the center and one behind, while the others move in random order with a more agile step than that of the Mamuthones. During the parade they throw the rope they are holding towards the audience, preferably capturing women and girls: gesture of a good omen, with a meaning – according to some scholars – of fertility.