The precise meaning of the name, Mamuthones is lost in time and a subject of discussion and debate, but you can think of it as an ancient pagan God of the changing seasons, from winter to spring, and sacrificing for the new year of growth, good rains and successful harvests.
These monsters show themselves first time in the town of Mamoiada and also in Ottana on the 17th of January, the saint day of Sant’Antonio Abate, with forty bonfires lighting up piazze, while the Mamuthones dance throughout the night. Again in February, Mamuthones appear on Carnival Sunday and on .
A bearded herd, below.
The masks themselves are amazing works of folk art, carved from fig, elm, chestnut or walnut and blackened to a frightening effect. The costume is made of black sheep skins which are heavy and weigh down the Mamuthone, arranged on the back are a series of carriga (bells) which are said to scare away evil spirits.
The Mamuthone legacy is shrouded in secrecy and there is little documented evidence on their origins, but there is evidence that Mamuthones have been involved in some sort of ritual from the beginnings of the Nuraghic Age (early Sardinian culture) from the 18th century BC (earlier than the Bronze Age) to the 2nd century AD.
Others argue that it’s a festival to celebrate the victory of the Sardinian shepherds (Issohadores) against the Saracens invaders who imprisoned the Mamoiadini leading them into a dark, cold cave. Another theory is based on meaning of the roots of the name Mamuthones, supposedly calling the rains to the roots--again, appeasing the Gods to give good rains. The last theory is simply to honor the animals which Sardinians depend on for so much... wool for clothing, milk for cheeses and their meat.
If you travel to these villages other times of the year, don't worry... the locals live with the Mamuthunes all year long, with museums displaying their best costumes and masks, statues in piazze and frescoes on walls in the villages.
To be honest, they really freak me out!
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