The Sardinian Festival of “Mamuthones e Issohadores”

by Tom Wolf

Every winter, in the remote Sardinian mountain village of Mamoiada, twenty men transform into the mysterious, masked, and pagan Mamuthones and Issohadores. It’s the day of Saint Anthony the Abbot—patron saint of animals and swineherds, among others—and the Mamuthones are wearing black handmade masks, brown fur, and 50 pounds of cowbells on their backs. The Issohadores, human counterparts to the animalistic Mamuthones, dress in red, white, and black, and carry lassoes. Through the cold town dotted with bonfires, they process together, performing their respective dances, from afternoon into night. (This year’s parade took place on January 17th.)

Like many Sardinian traditions, this one’s history is opaque—oral and varied. The island is almost 150 miles off the coast of mainland Italy, and the festival is a world apart from the extravagant and brightly colored winter carnivals of Venice, New Orleans, and Rio.

If you were to travel to Mamoiada for the Mamuthones e Issohadores celebration—aside from watching the central parade—you should visit the museum devoted to the masks of the Mediterranean. Then you might feast on roast pork, prosciutto crudo, and culurgiones, celebratory Sardinian pasta similar to ravioli, filled with some variation of boiled potatoes, olive oil, pecorino cheese, garlic, mint, and nutmeg. And you’d certainly sip on Cannonau—Sardinian Grenache which, according to one local mask maker, children from the town taste immediately after leaving the crib.

Giovanni Montisci, a former mechanic, has become a master of Mamoiadan Cannonau since he started bottling his own wine in 2004. With organic work in his very old vines—often plowed with the assistance of a bull—and minimal intervention in the cellar, Giovanni crafts a deep, elegant wine: Sardinia’s answer to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The most recent shipment of Montisci’s wines has just arrived. You can find his Cannonau “Barrosu” here.

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