Federico Borella & Michela Balboni — Photographing rural Italy’s “tree men”

May 20, 2024 123

In a small village called Satriano, in the heart of Italy’s picturesque Basilicata region, an ancient ritual has been rekindled by the local people. Every February, on the weekend before Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), 131 men go into the forest. When they emerge, they are dressed from head to toe in branches of ivy.

Almost unrecognizable, besides their arms and feet, they become a procession of moving trees. Followed by a throng of carnival-goers, the rumiti (tree men) wander through the village, knocking on doors and accepting gifts of money and food, while blessing everyone they meet with their long wooden staffs. This unique spectacle is known as the “walking forest.”

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