The Barbagia Carnival in Sardinia: masks and ancient traditions


In Sardinia, and especially in the Barbagia region, Carnival is a unique and amazing celebration, thanks to the fantastic shows with traditional masks, which differ in shape and name from town to town.

Fonni is a great starting point to discover the carrasegare with the traditional Barbagia masks. The Carnival is a community celebration when the whole town comes alive with the traditional masks and rites, attracting curious tourists from all over the island and beyond.


During the traditional Fonni Carnival, Su Carrasecare Onnessu, Fonni’s masks of the urthos, buttudos and sas mascheras limpias will play a key role, along with other typical Sardinian masks, such as Samugheo’s sos mamutzones, and other national and international groups.

A whole day of celebration that will begin in the morning, continue in the afternoon with the parade, and go well into the night with music and dancing.

The Carnivals of Fonni’s neighboring towns share many common features: the references to the agricultural and pastoral world, the animal-like shape of the masks, the faces blackened by soot, the wine and sweets, the dances in the town square. However, each of them boasts their own unique soul.


In Mamoiada, about 16 km from Fonni, the mystical and ritual dance of the Mamuthones is both captivating and intriguing. They wear heavy sheep furs and hide their faces behind black wooden masks, held by a handkerchief. They walk in pairs at the sound of the sa garriga, the ensemble of differently sized bells that they carry on their shoulders. Along this animal-like figures there are the agile Issocadores, with their red vests and the rope that they use to “capture” people from the audience.


About 17 km from Fonni, we find Ollolai. Here the Carnival is celebrated on the Sunday and Fat Thursday, called Jobia Lardajola, with the sas mascheras o bumbones, (among which the Truccos, or Turcos) that creatively mime the traditional crafts, entering into people’s homes, going around the town and getting everyone to dance and sing along. During the Carnival people gather to eat typical sweets, such as sebadas, and drink wine. On Ash Wednesday a mannequin is built, which is then carried around town and accused of different crimes, for which it will later be judged and sentenced, usually, to burn at the stake.


Ovodda is a town located about 17 km from Fonni. The main feature of its Carnival is the colorful and unconventional celebration on Ash Wednesday. The character at the center of the festival is Don Conte. He represents the powers that be, and he is therefore subject to insults and ridicule. People dress up with old, colorful rugs and paint their faces black. There is dancing and singing, and the celebration ends with burning the mannequin at the stake in the town square.


In Orani, about 30 km from Fonni, the Carnival is celebrated on the Sunday and Fat Tuesday, and here we find many masks, among which the Su Bundu, the only one made of cork and painted red. It represents the transfiguration of man into ox, and it symbolizes the God of Wind people called on for help to separate the wheat from the chaff. The celebrations involve piñatas, traditional dances and songs in the square, accompanied by the music of the organetto.


In order to see the Boes e Merdules, the masks of Ottana, you need to travel about 40 km from Fonni. The boes wear sheep furs and facemasks made of wild pear wood, fitted with long horns. They carry a bunch of bells on their shoulders, called sas sonazzas or su erru, placed on a leather belt. The merdules too wear sheep furs but their masks are human-like. They keep the ox close with a lasso, sa socca, and in the other hand they hold a tree branch, that they use to tame the ox. The Boes are always silent while the Merdules speak in a piercing voice.