Carnival is a really important holiday in Sardinia, it's celebrated everywhere with events capable of attract a vast local public, as well as tourists from all over the country. The celebrations, that start with the feast of Sant'Antonio Abate the night between January 16th and 17th , reach their peak for Mardi Gras and Giovedì grasso (fat Thursday), ending Ash Tuesday.
Sa carrela ‘e nanti
Is the carnival of Santu Lussurgiu. In the last three days of the feast, a suggestive and reckless horse race take place through the main road of the old town, similar to the Sartiglia in Oristano or S'Ardia in Sedilo. The name means "the road ahead", it comes from the old name of the road where the horses race, the district is called Biadorru "the way back" instead. The route is always the same, a dirt road prepared for the occasion in Via Roma, full of narrows, widening and slopes with a climb at the end. For the occasion all old town if filled by a huge crowd of tourists and curious, the organization is the responsibility of the local administration, the pro loco association and the local equestrian club.
The event starts a week before carnival when the riders try the track, but the actual race takes place the Sunday during the festivities. The horsemen, with painted faces and multicolored suits, get to the line at s’iscappadorzu "the starting point", to hit the road in team of two, three or four riders through the route. The most important and controversial day of the event is su lunisi de sa pudda "the chickens Monday", when the riding horsemen try to strike rag chickens suspended on a string across the road, approximately in the middle of the route. The controversy was caused by an old cruel tradition, according to which the chicken had to be alive and hung upside down, while the riders tried to behead them with a stick. The horsemen have to be really skilled, to engage the winding route with elegance, balance and technique. The conclusion in set on Tuesday with an award ceremony, it rewards the three best teams and the best individual riders.
The race is accompanied by folk and gastronomic events, is indeed tradition to offer to the visitors local wines and spirit, as well as culurzones, typical pastries made with almond paste. The last day, the citizens of the town usually treat everyone with a huge dinner, to end the carnival in the best way.
Well-known around the world, this event takes place in Oristano the last Sunday of the carnival. It's a horse race that recalls the ancient medieval equestrian games, the name itself comes from the castillian sortija which meant charm, curse. The event is organized by the Gremi, the guilds of carpenters, craftsmen and farmers, it features a series of rituals that dictate its moments: the dressing, the blessing and the race.
The absolute protagonist of Sa Sartiglia is su componidori "the head of the race", his dressing is done by a group of girls that wear traditional costumes, in a place scattered with grains of wheat and flower petals. He wears an elegant traditional costume too, a white shirt with wide sleeves closed by colored stripes, a sleeveless jacket with silver buckles, a pale wooden mask, a white triangular veil accurately embroidered and a black top hat. His task is to bless the crowd with a soaked bouquet of violets and periwinkles, called sa pippia the maju "the little girl of May". After the blessing a parade takes place, followed by the horse race through the roads of the old town. Throughout the track, a series of stars hang across the streets, a symbol of fertility and thriving life, the riders and Su componidori have to skewer them with swords and sticks, trying to get as many as they can. The tradition says that if a great number of stars is stuck, the harvest will be plenty.
This event, characterized by solemn rituals, is able to attract an always growing audience, inspiring famous local writers and artists.
The allegorical parades
The parades and the big events for carnival don't take place only in Santu lussurgiu and Oristano, several other towns organize important celebrations. Three towns in particular stand out from the pack, San Gavino Monreale, Tempio Pausania and Iglesias, where the preparation of the events, the search for a sponsor, the choice of the theme and the actual construction of the parade floats, already begins in December.
In San Gavino Monreale carnival is one of the most popular and attended festivities, it portrays the ancient ritual of the killing of the scapegoat. The symbol of the feast is Su Babballotti, a giant papier-mache dummy that opens the parade, it represents the gift offered in sacrifice to wash all the sins of the community. The parade lasts more or less seven hours, culminating with a huge feast in piazza Marconi, where the Babballotti is burnt. The floats are made by many local artists and are a true product of excellence, they compete with the most important ones around the country.
Carnival in Tempio Pausania occurs every year since 1956, the icon of the feast is His Majesty King George, initially called Jolgliu Puntogliu. This character, symbolizes the forms of power and the troubles the town and its people suffer because of them. It looks different every year, to this day it took the appearance of Mayors, aldermen, prime ministers and presidents of the republic. The parades start Giovedì grasso (literally "fat Thursday", the last Thursday before lent), King George is adored and glorified for six days, on Sunday his wedding is celebrated, then the next Tuesday he is "put on trial" for his sins and burnt in the main town square. Originally the king was represented by a straw dummy put on a stick, nowadays replaced by a huge figure seated on a throne.
Finally, even Iglesias is home of a massive festival of great artistic value and strong appeal, in fact every years many teams gather to design and build huge carnival floats. Even floats from neighbour towns can partecipate to the joyful parades, traditionally typical pastries are donated by the local administration to all the visitors and the people who attend the shows.
In Addition the the events mentioned above other carnivals exist, equally fascinating and unique, organized in many towns in Barbagia and inspired by the ancestral theme of the fight between man and nature. Fantasy elements are often involved, with heroes who must fight for the survival of the community. In every town the celebration has peculiar features, but the agropastoral origin is the same for every one of them. These carnivals are particularly fascinating because the traditional masks are involved, they became part of the collective imaginary, they are linked and cannot be dissociated from Sardinia itself. The most known and important are Mamuthones and Issohadores in Mamoiada, Thurpos in Orotelli, Boes and Merdules in Ottana, Mamutzones and Urtzu in Samugheo. They have the main role is several rituals, all with the common goal of rid their towns form evil.
Mamoiada – Mamuthones and Issohadores
Mamuthones and Issohadores are the main characters of carnival in Mamoiada, these masks gather in the streets of the town for all the duration of the festivities, which start on January 17th when the fires of Sant'Antonio Abate are lit in every district.
Mamuthones are the most famous masks of Sardinia, their first appearance on January 17th marks the start of carnival itself. Their iconic clothes are: Sa bisera, a dark facial masks, made of pear wood; A hat kept by a brown wool head scarf, tied up under the chin; The Mastrucca, a sleeveless overcoat made out of four sheepskins sewn together, featuring long black fur; Sa garrida, a series of leather straps bound to the body, on which several cowbells (near the torso) and little bronze bells (near the abdomen) are attached.
Issohadores wear instead: A tunic made of red cloth; dark velvet or white canvas trousers; a little wool shawl tide to the hips; Sa Berritta, a hat kept by a scarf tied up under the chin; a shoulder strap.
Mamuthones and Issohadores, move through the streets of the town in a parade that sometimes become a dance, sometimes is more solemn and resembles the religious processions. Mamuthones are twelve like the month of the year, they walk in two parallel ranks in a rhythmic pace, ringing the bells in the process. Issohadores stand with them setting the pace of the ritual, once in a while with sudden moves they "capture" some prisoner from the audience using Sa Soha, a rope made from reed. Carnival officially starts when Mamuthones goes to the fires lit in the town and they're offered wine and sweets. This cathartic moment symbolizes the ancient meaning of the masks themselves: loud, sinister, scary presences, like those that in the agropastoral world it was believed dwelt the winters, receive gifts so that they can return to the darkness and let spring come back.
These famous masks are accompanied by Jubanne Martis, a dummy with the appearance of a cask of wine. On Mardi Gras the dummy it's lifted on a donkey and it's hit throughout all the parade by a group of raggedy men, which in the meantime offer drinks to the audience.
Orotelli – Thurpos and S’Eritaju
The typical masks of Orotelli are Thurpos "the Blinds", divided in Thurpo Massaio (the farmer), Thrupo Boe (the ox) and Su Voinarzu (the shepherd who herds them). Their face is charred with soot, their head is hidden under the hood of a black coat made of orbace, a typical Sardinian coarse woolen fabric. They wear also a black velvet suit and long leather boots, bringing a shoulder strap with bells attached to them.
This carnival is different to the one celebrated in Mamoiada, in this parade the Thurpo Massaiu and the Thurpo Boe are tied together by the waist with a rope, Voinarzu have to lead them through the streets of the town, while the other thurpos drag a plow followed by the sowers, who scatter bran around. The masks of the farmer and the ox are tied together to symbolize the yoke of the oxen, they wander through the streets looking for someone (a friend, a relative, even a stranger) to "capture". The capture recalls ancient propitiatory rituals, that represented the struggle of the farmer and the ox against nature.
In recent years another mask is involved, S’Eritaju "the hedgehog", so called because he wears a collar with particular cork disks attached to it, these are covered in hedgehog skin, spines too. According to the tradition, he hugged women during the parade with the intention of puncture their breast, a ritual that symbolized fecundation and fertility.
Carnival is celebrated this way in Orotelli since 1979, year in which Thurpos have been rediscovered, thanks to the researches of a local team called after Salvatore Cambosu.
Ottana – Boes and Merdules
These masks represent farmers and oxen, they stage moments of rural life through the streets. Boe wears: A bovine mask made of dark pier wood; a white mastrucca like Mamuthones; a shoulder strap covered in heavy cowbells on the back and little bronze bells elsewhere. Merdule wear: a grotesque and anthropomorphic mask made of dark pier wood; black sheepskins, cowbells and a saddlebag.
During the parades the town is animated by organized or spontaneous groups of these masks, with Merdule that try to tame the Boe, holding them with ropes and hitting them with sticks. The representation is a pantomime intentionally exaggerated, there's no script and the masks act in an uncontrolled and rude way. The goal is to stage in an ironic way the slave/master situation, in which the farmers have to difficulty train the beasts, trying to find in joviality the strength to handle the hard work.
These groups of masks are followed by other anthropomorphic and zoomorphic ones, Filonzana is the most important of them. She's an old hunchback woman that wears a grotesque facial mask, dark female clothes and long leather boots. She holds a reel in her hand, its threads represent the frailty of human life and she threats to sever them, an ill omen to those who don't offer her drinks.
Samugheo – Mamutzones and Urtzu
In Samugheo carnival recalls Dionysian rituals, here Mamutzones wear goat skins and a cork facial mask with long goat horns, they represent followers of Dionysus. S'Urzu is a creepy zoomorphic mask, he's covered in a whole goat skin (head included) and he's held by the waist by his guardian, Su Omadore. During the parades sometimes S'Urzu falls on the ground acting the death of the animal, Mamutzones instead dance around them trying to reach ecstasy, to equal the god they worship.
Fonni – Buttudos and S’Urthu
Fonni has it's traditional carnival too, although not as renowned as the previous ones. Buttudos, the local traditional masks, blacken their face with soot and wear black rags and a shawl over the head; during the celebrations they have fun chasing and disturbing the girls they meet. The main character is Narcisu, a dummy that typically represents the sins of the town and it's put on trial and burnt at the end of carnival. Originally Narcisu was brought through the streets by Buttos, who complained about his fate with licentious cries, recently this tradition has been rediscovered and readapted. Another forgotten mask recently rediscovered is S'Urthu, it's origin and interpretation are uncertain, someone thinks it's related to the bear mask, really popular in european carnival, but bears aren't part of sardinian wildlife, so it could derive form the word "covered".
In the heart of Barbagia we can find one of the most ancient and popular carnivals Sardinia has to offer, one that unlike the others is defined by happiness, in a sea of Music, singing and dancing. It's not the usual parade of masks to watch, but an engaging gathering of people, that through the music of Tumbarinos (it's the name of both players and instruments) liven up the squares of the town, starting with Piazza San Gavino.
Carnival starts officially on Jovia Lardajola (fat Thrursday) with the traditional Sortilla de Tumbarinos (parade of tamburini),but already in the weeks before the event, the faint and distant sound of the drums can be heard in the silent streets of the town.
In every house expert hands and trained ears “pull” goatskins and sheepskins to find the perfect sound; Coats made of orbace, velvet suits and sos gambales (long boots) are dusted off from the old chests, representing the old outfits worn by shepherds. A striking silence anticipates Sa Sortilla, before to hear Sos Tumbarinos coming out of the houses. The squares become stages of dances and songs accompanied by the old instruments: su Tumbarinu (the drum), su Pipiolu (the piffero), su Triangulu (the triangle) and su Tumborro (and ancient string instrument made with animal bladder).
Il Tamburo (the drum) is the real mask and protagonist of this carnival, where everyone is welcome, it just takes a bit of ash on the face to join it. Indeed some theories said that the players with blackened face, were the reminiscence of an older rite, in which the victim of the carnival was accompanied to the sacrifice by music.
From oral tradition we know that before the great war there were only four tubarinos in all town, spread in all districts, the goal for every district was to defend its own tumbarinos from the blade of the opponent ones. Nowadays, in Gavoi we can count more than a thousand drums and the expertise to build them has been spread and passed on to the youngsters, that have learned to choose the right woods (obtained from old flour sifters and forms for pecorino romano), tan, stretch and strap the hides to give them an unique tone.
Pier Gavino Sedda, expert in music and popular traditions, has been always committed to the cultural promotion of his town, he speaks with passion of carnival: “It's an event that repeat itself, but at the same time innovate itself every year. The music of sos tunbarinos is the most important thing for our carnival. The preparation of the hides precedes it. We clean them, shave them, sew them, we place them on the drums and let them dry, so that they can be ready for Thursday. Their sound will echoes in the town until late at night”.
During carnival in Gavoi takes also place the parade of Zizzarrone, the carnival dummy, that in the last years took an allegorical function, involving floats and masks representing modern characters and themes. After the crowded and loud parade marches through the main street, accompanied by drums that dictate the tempo, the floats and Zizzarone convey on a vaste panoramic square near the city hall. Here traditional dances, music "su sonu" and the "a boche e' ballu" chant begin, performed by a little orchestra formed by a wooden piffero, a triangle and a drum.
The main day of carnival in Ovodda is ash Wednesday. Whoever wants to join the totally chaotic and improvised celebration, that take place in the afternoon, have to cover their faces with burnt cork ashes: in some way this ritual marks the joining of the feast, in which everyone is not a simple viewer but an active part, accepting its chaos and commotion. In an increasing turmoil, the crowded square in constantly crossed by donkeys rode by traditional masks, as well as several animals kept on a leash like sheep, goats, ducks, chicken and dogs. This joyful "court of miracles" waits for the evening to attend the trial, sentence and killing of Don Conte, the dummy that as typical of these events, is the scapegoat of all the troubles of the community. Don Conte goes through the town without an specified route, accompanied by a large group of people. This parade is followed by Sos Instintos "the colored", men wearing old rags and clothes with their faces blackened by ashes, some of them called inthingidores throw burnt cork ashes (“zinziveddu”) to the bystanders. The celebration reach its climax when the music stops and a frantic judge, starts to list all the misdeeds committed by Don Conte, which are not only local, but also national and international. The plea is relentless and the only outcome can be an exemplary sentence, performed at once with the burning of the dummy. His cart is then carried around by boys, followed by the crowd, who bring the flaming dummy to the outskirts of the town, where it's thrown down and it crashes in the valley below, for the delight of all.
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