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Animas de Sardinia, a century-old tradition that continues to fascinate the world

Posted on11/16/2022 by

Italy is a country rich in different traditions and typicalities that change from region to region with peculiarities and customs that often differ even from country to country. Among these, carnival is a holiday that has very distant origins, is distinguished by masquerade and pranks and is usually characterized by parades in which floats with playful and imaginative elements parade.

But in Sardinia, especially in Barbagia (central Sardinia), carnival is something truly unique; there are no parades and parades of floats, but with their ancestral anthropomorphic and zoomorphic masks, robes of goat skins, orbaceous and cowbells, different figures walk through the village streets, evoking ancient rituals, propitiatory dances and the close relationship between man, animal and their instincts.

Different from area to area, from village to village, the parades in Sardinia maintain a whole series of common traits that point to a unique origin: an ancient and violent cult linked to the fertilization of the earth.
The Sartiglia in Oristano, the fight between Mamuthones and Issokatores in Mamoiada or the Merdules e Boes parade in Ottana are some of the best known.

And it is precisely in Ottana (NU) that Gian Paolo Marras, among the very few artisans to keep these traditions alive, started his workshop Animas de Sardinia. A know-how, his, handed down from father to son for generations since the early 1900s. His father Gonario, in fact, already a child of art, carved traditional masks in the 1960s and passed this passion on to Gian Paolo, who even as a boy loved to make beautiful masks carved in pear wood.

The main figures of the Ottanese carnival are sos Boes, sos Merdules and Sa Filonzana; rarer are those of su Crapolu, su Molente and su Porcu.

The Bòes (photo above) are the masks of the Barbaric tradition, typical of the Ottana carnival, are among the best known throughout Sardinia and represent the struggle between animal instinct and human reason. In carnival performances, the Boe, is chased, whipped and captured by the Merdule, acting out furious brawls, around a large bonfire in the square that has always been held on the evening of January 16.

To make these masks, expertly hand-carved with gouges and knife, mostly wild pear wood is used and they are enriched with various decorations, the most famous of which is the flower of life (a symbol of prosperity, hope and good omen).They are then painted with natural mordants and finished with fine waxes. The costume of the Bòes is completed in the end with white sheepskins and a cluster of shoulder bells, also called Su Erru or Su Sonazos.

In the video (below), Gian Paolo Marras - Animas de Sardinia - tells us how his masks are created, revealing the different stages of processing and some more information about this ancient art.

Along with the ox masks are then those of the Merdùles (photo below) who represent "the guardians of the oxen," who try to command the boes throughout the carnival parade. These masks have the features of the face of a deformed, ugly old man with a giant mouth.

The Merdùles' costume is completed with white or black sheepskins (quite rare) and a stick, Su Matzuccu, with which they summon the boes, or try to tame them using a leather rope, Sa Soca.

Mayor of Ottana from 2010 to 2015, Gian Paolo, has taken his works around the world, Bangkok, Paris, Stuttgart, Naples and Japan, and his masks have been used by numerous singing artists in video clips and live concerts: the first were Tazenda with their Carrasecare, then Piero Pelù, Sergio Cammariere and the international bands Placebo and Madden Waves.

The concept behind Animas de Sardinia is to make people reflect, through ethnic and traditional works, on the disappearance of empathy between human beings, empathy that we easily find instead among masks, capable of uniting men, their stories and their lives.

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