Mamoiada (Sardinia), issohadores from the Pro Loco association prepare before a parade.
Italy - Mamoiada, the last pagan dance
In the heart of Sardinia a rite which not even the Romans were able to abolish
Photos: Alessandro Gandolfi
Sa Perda Pinta', which is the Sardinian for "the engraved stone", is a rock decorated with mysterious designs more than 5000 years ago. In 1997 it was rediscovered by chance by Maria Giovanna, and it remains in her garden in Mamoiada. “Perhaps they are symbols inspired by the mother goddess," she explains, "or the goddess of fertility and the cycle of nature, birth and death."
Here, in the heart of Barbagia, in Sardinia, everything seems to be linked to the cycle of death and rebirth. Mamoiada, in fact, is the home of the mamuthones, characters that are symbols of an ancestral rite; during the period from 17 January until Carnival, they subvert the established order and open a gateway to the afterlife.

The land of the mamuthones is a remote and pagan Sardinia that not even the Roman Empire managed to colonize completely. So, in this town of shepherds and wineries, every year on 17 January, the Feast of Sant’Antonio Abate (Saint Anthony the Great), the Christian Prometheus who stole fire to give it to man, celebrates the beginning of the new agricultural year.
Almost one month after the winter solstice, the days are starting to get longer and a new cycle is beginning. The bonfires in the neighbourhoods of Mamoiada warm a winter that is still long and cold, but the mamuthones - 12 in number, like the months of the year, and wearing their tragic masks, black sheepskins and with around 27 kilos of bells strapped across their backs - come out for the first time. "And when the bells ring," explains the singer-songwriter Vinicio Capossela, "it's as if they are knocking on the earth in order to wake it".