Counter-narratives in Mamoiada: Culture as a Trigger for Tourism Development

Theme: The Cultural Significance of Rural Identity to the Upcoming Generations

by Ms. Ilenia Atzori
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Sardinia, Italy
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
M.A. in Museum Studies, Leicester University


Studying the ways in which a society responds to disasters would be an important avenue to understanding the broader process of that society’s historical and cultural evolution.

Grattan Torrence (2012)

As all the case-studies presented thus far, this story is about the strong relationship between heritage, identity and local communities; the set for this story is Mamoiada (Fig. 1), a small town with a population of less than 3,000 people, located in the central part of Sardinia, island, in an area called Barbagia.

Figure 1: Mamoiada on Google Maps

If you google this name and look for the recommended things to do in Mamoiada, you find out about their museum of Mediterranean Masks, their wineries and archaeology. You also explore about their traditional carnival masks “MaMuMask” – which is at its second edition (while the community is about to start working on the third) – and relative dance and artistic workshops.

What you would not find, unless you specifically looked for it, is the story about how Mamoiada recovered from its past wounds and worked hard to completely change its narrative, becoming one of the most renowned cultural tourism destinations in Sardinia: this will be the focus of this article.

In the mid-1970s, Mamoiada’s traditional masks Mamuthones and Issohadores increasingly gained attention by scholars and researchers, starting a debate on where these masks came from and why they arrived in Mamoiada. In the following decade, Mamuthones and Issohadores recorded a crescendo in requests for their participation in festivals in mainland Italy and abroad. However, until the early 1990s the area was mainly known for its local feud: Sardinia media outlets predominantly mentioned Mamoiada and Barbagia reporting acts of violence rather than stressing the increasing cultural importance gained by their local traditions. A Sardinian pop-rock band also dedicated one of their songs[1] to this issue, praying for such “disamistade” (lit. translated: enmity, hostility) to soon come to an end. Unfortunately, for many years this was the main narrative about Mamoiada.

Drawing upon the words used by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her 2009 Ted Talk ‘The dangers of a single story[2], if individuals are represented in a single way, through a single feature used to identify them, those individuals are deprived of their dignity and de-humanised, whilst differences are stressed and inequality legitimised. That narrative had contributed to the othering process of both Barbagia and Mamoiada, unfairly representing them only as a dangerous and unsafe place for decades.

Figure 2: Mamuthone and Issohadore in a picture from a local newspaper (shared by the Museums’ Network Facebook Page), Source: MaMu – Mamoiada Museums Network

Nonetheless, it was in the 1970s that the town started a process of identity and cultural enhancement which paved the way for Mamoiada to become a cultural tourism destination.

In those years, a group of young people interested in the traditional Carnival masks (Fig. 2) decided to gather in an association to carry out a research and dissemination project: this is how Mamoiada’s Pro-Loco (approximately translated from the Latin, ‘in favour of the area’)was born. At first, they had to face some difficulties such as the age difference (and consequently different approaches and points of view) with the Mamuthones[3] group. Once such difficulties were overcome, they started a cooperation which resulted in an invitation from the Italian National Olympic Committee for the Mamuthones to perform at the opening ceremony of the European Athletics Championships in Rome and an increasing popularity of the masks[4].

Between 1975 and 1985 the Pro Loco activities focused on cultural awareness and identity: they tried to engage the whole town with the organization of conferences and exhibitions about masks and local craft products[4]. Furthermore, based on the oral records of the elderly, they re-introduced the celebrations for St. Anthony the Abbot on January 17th, which had not been celebrated since the years before World War I. In the early 1980s, instead, they introduced an event called Carnevale dei Rioni (lit. transl. Neighbourhoods’ Carnival) to bring each neighborhood to celebrate Carnival together[4]: in a place where talking to your neighbours was not so obvious, these celebrations were meant to reconnect and reinforce the social fabric that years of violence had disrupted.

Another significant event organized by the Pro Loco was the conference “Per ritrovare la pace” (lit. transl.: Finding peace again), held in 1985 and strongly promoted by the local administration.

In the early 1990s the feud ended, and the local cultural liveliness slowly emerged gradually leading to the current scenario.

In the early 2000s, the long debate on the need for Mamoiada to have a permanent exhibition on traditional masks resulted in the creation of the Museum of Mediterranean Masks, strongly promoted by Mamoiada’s local administration and Pro-Loco, which was contracted for ten years -then renewed for another decade- by means of an invitation to tender to the cooperative ‘Viseras’ [7], which is currently running the Museum.

The Museum of Mediterranean Masks drove the further development of the town: thanks to conferences and other events, as well as their engagement with schools and local craftsmen, the Museum and Mamoiada attracted an increasing number of visitors producing a significant change in the whole community, who had started to see sustainable and cultural tourism as an opportunity[4]. Around traditional masks, Mamoiada had started rewriting its own story.Figure 3: Mamoiada’s Museum Network. (Picture from the Museums’ Network Facebook Page)

Figure 3: Mamoiada’s Museum Network. (Picture from the Museums’ Network Facebook Page), Source: MaMu – Mamoiada Museums Network

Nowadays, Mamoaida has a small network of three museums (Fig. 3) run by the Cooperativa Viseras: the Museum of Mediterranean Masks (2001), the Museum of Local Culture and Crafts (2011) and the MATer-Museum of Local Archaeology and Territory (2014). Besides, since the opening of the town’s first museum, eight bed and breakfasts (for an overall 80-beds), an inn, two restaurants and a trattoria, a tourist service company, twenty wineries, an agri-tourism and a craft workshop were created in Mamoiada[6]. The tourist service company was created in 2014 by a group of three women who decided to give their contribution in the development of cultural tourism in central Sardinia. A tour guide, an archaeologist and a photographer, they share their knowledge and competences to tailor experiences in which visitors are active agents of their own tours.

As for the wineries, a remarkable example is the Mamojà association, created in 2015 with around 70 members sharing the same mission: “enhancing, promoting and preserving the wine and the territory of Mamoiada in their authenticity through an economic-productive model that always aims at excellence”[7]. Wine has a strong cultural value, especially in connection with Carnival: this is why Mamojà’s logo also shows a Mamuthone and one of this association’s members named one of his most renowned wines Mamuthone. Amongst the emerging winemakers in Mamoiada, some purposely decided to get back to their hometown and run their family winery, such as Luca Gungui, young and talented vine grower who previously worked in public sector. Stories like these would have unlikely happened 40 years ago.

In a territorial context where all the social agents (whether consumers, producers or suppliers) are potential contributors to the creation of value, a greater awareness of the territory’s potential is perceived, turning the local users of the resources into co-producers of services that in a specific cultural context lead to the development of a peculiar tourist offer that can only be enjoyed when visiting that territory.

Member of the Cultural District of Nuoro[8], The Museum of Mediterranean Masks, which is now an internationally recognized institution, has therefore achieved a slow process of integration into the territory, gaining the trust of its community; in addition, it established crucial interconnections through cultural networks, thus opening up beyond the local context and achieving important objectives in terms of quality of the multiple services offered[9].

The latest step of this long process has been the creation of an international mask festival called MaMuMask, first held in Mamoiada on June 15-16-17, 2018. In the words of some of the people who actively contributed to the organization of this event, the festival’s first objective was the engagement and cooperation of the whole community, cultural associations included[9]. From the very beginning, the organization of the event was shared with the whole community, who could discuss and agree upon the different issues and concerns of such event, bringing their point of view and solutions.

However, all these activities were not just about Mamoiada: the town acted as a catalyst for the whole Barbagia. For instance, the MaMu -acronym for Mamoiada Museums- has a partnership with the Nivola Museum in Orani and the Cala Gonone Aquarium (visitors who show the MaMu ticket are granted a reduction both at the Nivola Museum and the Aquarium); furthermore, MaMuMask is about Barbagia traditional Carnival masks and international guests. Among MaMuMask’s objectives is to create a continuous comparison with other cultural contexts; therefore, in 2018 the festival had the Caretos from Podence, Portugal, as guests, while in 2019 the guests were the Boteiros from Viana do Bolo, Galicia (Spain).

In her dissertation for a Post-graduate Degree at the University of Cagliari, through qualitative and quantitative research, Erika Meles found such festival gave participants a strong sense of identity and community: the event was not perceived as only organized by the Museum, the Pro-Loco and other agents, but it was perceived as everybody’s festival.

Figure 4: MaMuMask, 2019 edition (picture from the Facebook Page of the event), Source: MaMu – Mamoiada Museums Network

MaMuMask has reinforced in Mamoiada’s community the awareness of the need to cooperate, which -in the respondents’ words- had fallen asleep. The value created by the festival can be “measured” in terms of positive effects on the social local context, resulting from a joint collaborative work more than on a financial revenue[9]. Amongst the consequences of such awareness, a Youth Council was created after the festival’s first edition.

Therefore, the value resulting from MaMuMask (Fig. 4) is above all a personal and collective value, connected to cooperation, partnership and volunteering: without a real financial compensation the community created an experience and co-created a value whilst further understanding the potential of its own territory. A strong sense of belonging to the local identity, the pride for their traditions, the commitment enhanced by the relationships established between the local agents, are all elements that replaced the financial profit[9].

Nowadays, Mamoiada is identified with its traditional carnival and masks, wine and cultural tourism: the long process started more than 40 years ago has completely changed the town’s narrative and image. A model for cultural tourism development, Mamoiada still draws the attention of researchers worldwide.

The town’s rural culture has been placed at the center of their revitalization process, becoming a resource for a socio-economic development, tackling their demographic decline and a crisis in traditional knowledge. The “identity museums”, such as the Museum of Mediterranean Masks, by means of the transmission of knowledge, stress on the authenticity of their community and hold a very important social role because they also allow their communities to further decode their specific heritage[10].

Therefore, “identity museums” or “Eco museums” are not elitist and non-replicable, since their meaning is in close connection with their territory, highlighting the cultural uniqueness of a human group.


A huge thank you to Mario Paffi and the Cooperativa Viseras for their availability and the resources shared.


[1] Tazenda, Mamoiada(Virgin Records, 1991). Accessed on 20 November 2019. <>

[2] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009), The Dangers of a Single Story. Ted – Ideas worth spreading. Accessed on 20 November 2019. <>

[3] Mamoiada’s traditional masks are Mamuthones and Issohadores. To learn more about them and their performance, visit the website of the Associazione Culturale Atzeni:

[4] Mannironi, A. (n.d.). Mamoiada: Da Un Passato Liminale Ad Un Presente Di Reintegrazione. Bachelor. University of Cagliari. p. 75-78.

[5] Viseras is the word for masks, in the local variety of Sardinian Language.

[6] Paffi, M. (n.d.). La valorizzazione di un territorio a partire dal patrimonio immateriale: Mamoiada e Mamuthones.

[7] To learn more, visit Mamojà website:

[8] To learn more, visit:

[9] Meles, E. (n.d.). Co-Creazione Di Valore E Beni Culturali: Il Caso Mamumask. Master. University of Cagliari.

[10] Mannironi, A. (n.d.). Mamoiada: Da Un Passato Liminale Ad Un Presente Di Reintegrazione. Bachelor. University of Cagliari. p. 87-88.


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