Sa Femmina Accabadora was a woman who was in charge of bringing death to people of any age, in the event that they were in conditions of illness.
Her intervention was requested by the victim’s family or by the victim himself.
The word Accabadora (s’agabbadóra) derives from the Sardinian s’acabbu, “the end” or from the Spanish acabar, “to terminate”.
In reality, there is no evidence of this practice, which would have affected some Sardinian regions such as Marghine, Planargia, and Gallura. The practice was not to be paid by the relatives of the patient because paying for death was contrary to religious and superstitious beliefs.
The legend tells that the killing practices used by the femina agabbadora varied depending on the place: entering the room of the dying dressed in black, with the face covered, and killing the victim by suffocation with a pillow, or hitting him on the forehead with an olive stick (su mazzolu) or behind the neck with a sharp blow, or even strangling him by placing his neck between his legs.
Some anthropologists believe that the femina agabbadora never existed. There is no evidence of the female agabbadora as such, but of women who brought comfort to families where there was a dying man, accompanying him to the last moment.
They helped in the agony and gave support, so they were respected by the whole community, but they did not kill as it seems to have happened elsewhere (in Greece).
According to some in the twenties of the 1900s, there were the last three practices of a Female Agabbadora: one in Luras (1929), one in Orgosolo (1952), and one in Oristano. Nowadays, those who believe in these stories justify them by citing the problems of the past, including the difficulty of moving the patient from isolated and very distant countries to a hospital.
References to the practices of symbolic or active euthanasia can also be found in other areas of the Mediterranean, in particular in the Salento area.
The Molfettese author Saverio La Sorsa, born in 1877, in his publications on the Apulian popular traditions from 1910 to 1970, made precise references also to certain islanders: “it is stunted the agony of those who have violated a term in life or burned a yoke […] to alleviate it, it is necessary to place under the bedside of the dying a stone or a new yoke, a key or an ax. The dying person is slow to exhale his last breath, relatives bring a comb or a yoke to his head or neck to relieve his suffering. “(Folklore pugliese”, volume 2, 1988, page 238-9).
Her work consisted of a scrupulous, silent, and painless ritual. As soon as her intervention was required, the woman would enter the house, left open specifically by relatives, and once quietly entered her room, removed the pungas and the rezettas (amulets) that the patient eventually had on him. It was believed that such objects, both Catholic and pagan origin, chained the soul to the body and did not leave it free to leave.
She then placed a giualeddu under the patient’s neck, under the pillow or under his bed. It was a wooden reproduction of the agricultural yoke because it was believed that his long agony was due to the fact that when he was young he had burned a yoke, stolen agricultural tools, or moved land boundaries. In fact, in the agro-pastoral world they were considered to be very serious acts.
The most used method was to strike a blow on the temple of the patient or on the bone of the neck with a mazzolu (also called mazzoccu or mazzocca).
The operation lasted a few moments and took place without any suffering; in fact, the woman knew perfectly the deadly points and was never wrong. Before using the “instrument of death” she recited prayers that were part of the magic ritual and which served, in a certain sense, to hypnotize the sick. Sometimes she cradled the sick man holding him in his arms and used the pillow to suffocate him instead of the mazzolu.
The Galluras Ethnographic Museum is a museum dedicated to the Female Acabadora in Luras, Sardinia.
Matteo Damiani is an Italian sinologist, photographer, author and motion designer. Matteo lived and worked for ten years in China. Founder of CinaOggi.it, China-underground.com, Weirditaly.com and RetroFuturista.com.