SPRING IN THEIR STEP

MODERN TIMES
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The Independent Culture
Samugheo is a village in the mountains of western Sardinia. It is famous for its carpets, decorative leather wallets and wine, but like villages the world over it lost its vitality as its young bloods drifted away to look for work and quick money in the towns and cities.

Thirty years ago the villagers confessed defeat: their spring festival, celebrated since as far back as anyone could remember and probably a good deal farther, was cancelled. A wintry stillness fell on the village. Tourists, too, began to stay away; and, without the tourists, the carpets and the decorative leather wallets stayed dusty and unbought on the shelves.

So, steps were taken; and last year, with a mighty effort of will, the festival was relaunched, with precisely those people who had left the village coming back to take the leading roles. It was a success; tomorrow it will be staged again.

Like many other spring festivals in Sardinia, Samugheo's has a strong whiff of paganism. The central character, shown on the left wearing the skull and pelt of a black goat, is dragged by lasso to a patch of waste ground, knocked to the ground and symbolically beaten to death. As the blows rain down, bladders full of blood concealed beneath his cork breast- plate begin to burst and the blood spurts out.

The death is long and theatrical, and made longer because whenever the protagonist stops twitching someone pours wine down his throat to revive him. By the time he finally does lie still, it is probably because he is dead drunk. This gives the other participants, clad in white goatskins, the cue to drag him back to Samugheo and start drinking themselves. The black goat's death means the end of winter, and as wine is a symbol of fertility, no further excuse for carousing is needed.

And with luck, there'll be a crowd of tour- ists in the bars of Samugheo as well, tempted by the revival of an ancient tradition into buying the carpets and wallets and into drinking the local wine. Then the return of fertility will be seen not just in the soil but in the local economy as well. Peter Popham

Photograph by Oliviero Olivieri

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