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The Carnival of Aliano, the profane festival par excellence

10 Febbraio 2021
The Carnival of Aliano, the profane festival par excellence Foto: Lodovico Alessandri Lodovico Alessandri
Among the mysteries enclosed within the Carlo Levi Literary Park of Aliano emerges that of horned masks. By Lodovico Alessandri

Here we are again in the mysterious land of Lucania. A hidden Region, discreetly sheltered from the great national circuits and yet so fascinating in its desert landscapes. Here we are again wandering curious inside the villages scattered on the rugged hills of Matera, in search of new emotions, new flavors, ancient legends.

As always, it is the "Tempa di Sant 'Oronzo" guarding the narrow pass of the Val d’Agri that welcomes us and reminds us once again that "Cristo si è Fermato ad Eboli". From the Goat, to the Cemetery, from Peppers to Exorcisms, from the white porcelain cabinet of the Levi house, to the Brigands, to the infinite spaces that expand along the banks of the great rivers that still bear the ancestral names coined by mythology, the Bradano, the Basento, the Sauro.

Here is once again the punctual and extraordinary presence of the Literary Parks which with their contribution have allowed all of us and the whole world to approach those ancient mysteries that only literature and a few nursery rhymes have been able to pass on to us. All of Levi's work is steeped in mystery, magic, stories and beliefs that are hard to place in the early twentieth century.
Among the mysteries contained within the Carlo Levi's Literary Park in Aliano, that of the horned masks emerges.

Carlo Levi left us a splendid description that confirms and demonstrates the exorcistic sense of this Carnival that is lost in the mists of time: “I saw three ghosts dressed in white come out from the bottom and run very fast uphill. They came in great leaps, and howled like angry animals ... They were the peasant masks ... in knitted caps ... in the hands of dry sheep skins and rolled up like sticks ... and they beat with them on the back and on the head all those who did not dodge in time. They seemed to be unleashed demons .... The beaters ... compensated for their hardships and slavery with a simulacrum of freedom, full of excess and true ferocity ... since for once everything was lawful, between lords and peasants ... taken by fury, shouting possessed, shaking in the leaps the white feathers ... They begged me to make them (the masks) ... I made them all the same, painted black and white, and all were death's heads, with black cavities of the dark circles and nose, and teeth without lips "

Here then is the Carnival of Aliano, the profane festival par excellence; the party where everything is allowed as long as it is done in disguised appearance. They are colorful masks adorned with feathers, feathers and paper braids cut into thin strips.
Suddenly they leap into the scene, wearing bronze bells and bells disassembled for the occasion from the goats' packs.
They break out making great leaps in imitation of foals or wild animals; they accompany their inhuman screams to the frenetic rhythm of the “Cupi-Cupi”, a kind of wooden drums on which a goat skin was once stretched.

The origin of Aliano's masks is as smoky as the propitiatory rites of the most ancient Italic tribes. Certainly the zoomorphic aspect prevails over the anthropomorphic one and is enhanced not only by the thick polychrome hair of paper and feathers, but above all by the constant presence of long pointed horns and by a sort of severed trunks emerging as grunts with colored faces.

There is a large literature on the origins and the mysterious and propitiatory meanings of the masks as well as interesting treatises that investigate the anthropological phenomenon of the masks. The sacred deities do not live in heaven, but in the bowels of the earth where the ancestors are buried.
The mask is only a simulacrum of the spirit of the divinity and the privileged one who wears it, in a crescendo of frenetic and repetitive dances, does not identify with the spirit of the god until the latter takes full possession of the person, who falls into a trance at the height of the ritual ceremony.

It is only at this point that man assumes the powers of the god, becoming his indisputable instrument. The tradition of the horned mask of Aliano is more likely linked to the archaic relationships between the shepherd men and the beasts they reared.
The greatest misfortune for a shepherd was seeing his flock torn apart by wolves. Therefore, the need arose instinctively to exorcise this disaster through the assumption of bestial features through which to reach the taming of the beast and in extreme cases to the sacrifice and death of the monster which, finally, with its defeat absorbed and annulled in itself all the evils and energies of evil spirits. Devils, Demons, Jesters and Beasts parade through the country temporarily abandoning their human identity and assuming that of another monstrous creature; in this way the eternal rite of the doubling of roles is renewed: what is hidden is mostly the human face of the wearer of the mask, and what is shown on the outside is the beast, the monster, the horrid creature to exorcise.

It is not easy to resist the magnetism of a Horned Mask staring into your eyes through its empty sockets.
Who are you? Who's back there! Are you young? You are old? You know me? Sometimes I felt the thrill of goosebumps on the back of my neck, petrified to observe the black background of the eye sockets blocked in a demonic grin.

These archaic traditions, evidence of a genuine life, can be of help to the new generations so that the authenticity still hidden in our beautiful land is not erased from memory. In the Carlo Levi's Literary Park in Aliano you can still fly with very rapid synthesis on a world of legend in an intact village populated by Houses with Eyes that observe you, invite you, bewitch you and offer you seductive refuge inside its ramshackle doors precipitously on the clay ravines that are lost, liquefied, in the blue mist of the horizons.

Credits photos Lodovico Alessandri

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Sono arrivato a Gagliano un pomeriggio di agosto, portato in una piccola automobile sgangherata. Avevo le mani impedite, ed ero accompagnato da due robusti rappresentanti dello Stato, dalle bande rosse ai pantoloni e dalle facce inespressive. ...

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