Mamoiada carnival


Mamoiada is a district in the province of Nuoro in Sardinia, famous for its carnival that attracts many tourists yearly. This feast is characterized by the presence of typical local figures, who are its link with ancient tradition.

Some of the most famous regional mask characters are Mamuthones. They are men wearing sheep leather, and a black mask made of alder or pear wood, that expresses suffering or phlegm. On their back they wear sa carriga, a series of cowbells weighing about thirty kilos, tied together with leather strips, and on their neck, smaller bells. The cowbells used are those that were often wasted, ruined, or taken from animals’ necks. Sonazzos, the cowbells, have limbatthas, clappers made with sheep, goat, donkey or other animals’ femurs and are made by local artisans in Tonara, another district in province of Nuoro. Issohadores wear a linen shirt, red jacket, white trousers, a woman’s shawl and carry bronze and brass bells on their shoulders; some have also a white, human-shaped masks.


During the carnival both masks appear in a parade. Mamuthones are dressed by two people and then they parade in groups of twelve, to represent the twelve months of the year, lead by Isshoadores, who, instead, proceed in groups of eight and express themselves in a difficult dance, learned during childhood. This parade represents a real orderly ceremony in procession. The firsts steps forward in two parallel rows, are done so slowly due to the tremendous weigh they carry, and at rate as told by those who stand beside them. Mamuthones, then shake their shoulders to make the bells ring. Issohadores have an easier time walking, because they don’t carry weighs and at a certain point they throw a rope, sa soha, to enwrap spectators, who thus become prisoners and have to offer food and drink if they want to be released.

These two masks appear on the 16th and 17th of January during the feast of Saint Anthony, on carnival Sunday and on fat Tuesday, and also on the day of the procession also of Juvanne Martis Sero mask, the dying puppet symbolizing the end of the Carnival. Juvanne Martis’ carers are dressed in black and knock at the townsmen’s doors asking for the wine necessary for the transfusion in an attempt to bring the character back to life. From an etymological point of view, the word Mamuthones derives from the Greek maimon (μαιμων), from mainomai (μαίνομαι), fidgeting (in the sense divine possession), but now it’s used as fool or incompetent. The word Issohadores, instead, comes from soha, long rope, traditionally made of leather, which later became wicker strip.


The Mamoiada carnival has ancient origins and there have been many hypothesis formulated about its beginnings. According to one of them, the feast started during the neuralgic era, as a veneration for animals ,for protection from the evil spirits or as a wish for a good harvest. Regarding the relationship between Mamuthones and Issohadores, some say that the latter are the guardians of the former, their Moorish prisoners; others, instead claim that they both go back to Dionysus worship. In any case, it seems that the event has to do with the death and rebirth of nature and the masks recall the relationship between men and animals, as told in the Barbagia area, seeing as how there’s a prevalence of pastoralists and breeding. Moreover, even if they could be frightening, the masks were equally welcomed due to their positive link to the harvest and survival. In order to be in good favour with the masks, food and drinks were offered to them.

In 2016 the feast is celebrated from January 17th to February 13th.

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