It’s darned near Halloween time. Time to scare the little ‘uns with a fearsome mask. Well, ok, from the alps, a mask from the Mamoiada Mask Museum:
Mamoiada is a small town in the Nuoro region of Sardinia tucked into the Barbagia mountains. Shepherd country. Living by the land and discovering its secrets were always part of the deal.
As the Bible tells us, shepherds are the backbone of religion. God likes the good ones better then farmers and rewards them because their moral values include being nice to their flock, providing them health care, and protecting them from predators. Then they get killed by the farmer. Jealousy. The end.
But shepherds were also the backbone of a thing we call paganism, the idea that nature had rhythms to follow and would reveal its secrets to those who listened very carefully and passed the word along. At times folks would get together to tell stories of the earth and stories of the old ways getting torn apart and disposed of by the young with new ideas. This might happen around Carnival time—or after the harvest.
Mamoiada is the land of Mamuthones and Issohadores. Once a pageant created in late fall, after the harvest, it now has become a Carnival celebration. Dressed in black sheepskins, men shrouded in black masks, big lipped, mouths wrinkly and distorted, the 12 haggard Mamuthones stoop under the burden of the enormous collection of heavy bells on their backs. They are controlled by an Issohadore, a young man in white with a red scarf. It is time for the old ideas of the old, broken men to give way to new ideas. This is a classic tragicomedy of death and rebirth. The figures are shown below in a mural on the main street of town.
But this masculine, Cain-and-Abel, herdsman-take-all festival cannot take place without the feminine. It is about (re)birth after all. So the Issohadore brings a rope which he uses to lasso young women who’ve come to watch the ceremony, bringing them into the world of men. The other female symbol is found in the scarf he displays. You thought he seemed a little feminine, eh?
Throughout the town of Mamoiada you’ll find mask stores where masks like you see in the museum are handcrafted to be sold. Traditionally they’re made of easily-workable pear wood, but some exotics are starting to appear. Below is a mask displayed at the workshop of a mask maker.
You’ll find other types of masks and costumes in the Mamoiada Mask Museum. Here’s a fact you can tell your kids about those idiotic, neck-ruining things business men and politicians are required to wear to fool you into thinking they’re really worth their decoration. The necktie tradition seems to have evolved from the extended tongues of the costumes from many cultures, as we might see below:
Resources on Masks in Sardinia
An introduction to Sardinia video includes the Mamoiada Mask Museum.