On the last Sunday of Carnival, in Castelnuovo al Volturno, hamlet of Rocchetta al Volturno (Isernia), a very ancient representation keeps coming up.
We cannot establish the exact origin of the ritual (which has evident, magical-religious components and carries out as a mime show), but as it represents also an hunting scene, let us understand that it is really old. In fact, the Prehistoric men were firstly hunters and then became shepherds or peasants. Moreover, as the deer is the mask of the ritual confirms more and more the consideration that the Carnival of Castelnuovo is a reminiscence of the remotest “simulated scenes” represented by men. Therefore, this is a mime show describing typical aspects of the primeval life; though its cultural-mythical reading highlights some features added in a more recent epoch.
The representation starts with the tinkling of several cowbells, rung with an obsessive rhythm, coming from the mountain. These are the “Janare”, witches with long hair, announcing the terrible rite about to repeat. Then it’s the piper turn as soon as you hear a scream in the air: “"Gl' Cierv'! Gl' Cierv!'". So, the Beast, the Deer, comes out, who is an actor covered with hides and big horns antlered on its head, face, black-painted hands and chest adorned with cowbells.
He shows strength and spite. He breaks into the square destroying all what he meets along its way and attacking people as soon as a Deer-woman comes on stage and starts to court him with clearer hides and more graceful movements. The whole village is terrified.
Then, comes Martino, a character with a pointed hat, who immobilizes the animals. He’s a mysterious character, wearing a white dress, a kind of magician coming from the mountain. He represents the Good, trying to stem the Beasts fury and, armed only with a stick, manages to fasten the animals with a string. But the Deers refuse with contempt the “polenta” offered to them as sign of reconciliation, even managing to free themselves from the strings and restarting to terrify people. Only the intervention of an Hunter, a kind of executioner, manages to stop the violent destructions of the animals. Suddenly, the Beasts fall to the ground silently. People are astonished in front of the reality of death. The Hunter approaches the two bodies, stoops and blows in their ears; as if by magic the Beasts come to life again in a new natural dimension, free from Evil. So, a big, purified bonfire is lighted.
From the avenues, attracted by fire the “Janare”, the witches, reappear. They dance and magic pervades every corner of the earth, every moment of our life if only we are able to look for it.
(Source: “L’Uomo-Cervo” by Mauro Gioielli)
He is the key character of the representation of Castelnuovo. Covered with goat hides, black–painted face and hands, head with black hides headgear, big hartshorns and cowbells fastened around his body, he goes through the village people with all his destroying strength of “wild animal”. His scenic presence is remarkable, his roars, the pealing, his mad fidgeting and rolling increase the evil value of the mask.
She’s the Deer-man partner following him in his wild animal destine, whom furious and free, is captured and exposed to the female populace derision, inviting him to eat “polenta” and sausages but offering them only weed. The Deer-woman follows the same destine of death of the wild beast and she will be raised too by the vital breath of the hunter.
He is a “Pulcinella” of the Molise: he wears a white dress with a short cloak and a high cone-shape headgear with coloured bands on the top.
Martino wears at his feet the “cioce”, the characteristic peasants shoes called zampitt’, his face is made up, above all the red-painted cheeks, he has a stick and a string in his hand.
Martino is the symbol character opposed to the evil fury of the Deer who manages to capture him and his partner, with string and stick, after an hard fight.
It is the character with pure choreographic value emphasizing the magical atmosphere of the scene, a evil character of darkness covered with goat hides, mask and long hair waving when he shakes and a stick in his hand, who announces and leads the macabre dance of the janare.
The female populace
The inhabitants of the little community threatened by the Deer fury make vivacious the scene. In particular, the female populace, wearing traditional costumes, thoughtless carry out the usual daily activities, as far as, suddenly, the Deer caracoles from the mountain, breaks into the busy square and destroys everything. Once captured and kept by Martino through the strings, a woman approaches him sneering and offering him some food, refused with repugnance by the beast, whom is angry more than ever for its temporary captivity.
He is the character with a double power: he can take people’s life and give it back. The Hunter enriches further more the mime show, about to end just when this character comes out, whom, brought its rifle, kills the Deer-man and the Deer-woman in a necessary and final execution. But, blowing in their ears with a beneficent breath, the Hunter gives the two beasts life back. “His breath” is the magical element with supernatural value bringing a new and purified life.
The witches, Janare in the tradition of Castelnuovo, represents an other disquieting, choreographic element of the mime show. They are horrible, with black dresses and terrifying masks, long hair lead by the dance rhythm coming from strange instruments; their entrance is announced by the Maone and marked by a disorderly and screaming run in the centre of the scene, then around a bonfire they execute their evil rite. The lack of lights and the percussions sound make gloomier the atmosphere.
The Piper is a connotative figure of Castelnuovo, which boasts a remarkable tradition of reed-pipe players. These characters, with the sweet and penetrating sound of their aerophones precede the animal arrival and accompany the development of the mime show.
(Source: GL’ CIERV Folklore e Mistero di un antichissimo rito – published by the Association “Il Cervo”)