The Mysterious Carnival Masks: the tradition of Sardinia


The traditional Sardinia’s carnival masks bring back a pagan and archaic tradition of the island. It has many facets, and it depends on which village you are in; however, it essentially deals with mystery and fear because Carnival in Sardinia evokes ancient farming rites, where men and animals are the main characters of the event. With them, people reveal a double image of nature that can procreate and produces and, on the other hand, destroys its creation, unleashing, at a level of rural life, the fury of diseases, bloody struggles, where wild creatures could beat the man’s life. Thus, the carnival represents the fleeting and playful inversion of an order that will be re-established at its end.

Sardinian masks celebrate the men’s eternal struggle against mother nature. Dark and mysterious, during the carnival, people dressed in sheep fur use wooden masks and heavy cowbells tied on the back, which rhythmically rings: the dances-chase become liberating rites that celebrate the irony of human existence.

Sardinia’s Carnival celebrations want to revoke that in the agrarian society, the farmer loves the animals as they are representative of his livelihood. However, at the same time, the animals are feared for their irrational fury and brutal instincts.
The Sardinia folk stories describe the symbiosis between man and animal: animals that become human or men who transform themselves into beasts.

In the silence of pastoral life becomes fear and wonder for a reality that emanates an uncontrollable supernatural force. The things of nature appear as the expression of a divine-demonic power, which during the day acquires the appearance of real things or animals like the sun, the wind, the water, plants and beasts. In the darkness of the night, the tutelary minds become “animas malas”, precisely the animal, so intruded and confused in the life of the farmer and herdsman that it turns into a disturbing beast and the lowing of the ox becomes an omen of doom.

During the carnival performance, the chase becomes a dance -celebration that aims to exorcise the danger of the transformation into beasts.

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