June, 1992: The upper part of his ear was found by a priest on the edge of a mountainous road in Barbagia, central Sardinia. The young boy, Farouk, was spending his fifth month in a hidden cave, in company of minute forest animals and a group of masked strangers.
The balconies in my village were clad with white blankets. The community was shocked and wanted to display their sympathy with the kidnapped child. We were about the same age, just six years old. Like most of the kids, I was also terrified of being taken away from my home. Between the Carthaginians and the Byzantines, the Roman Empire ruled Sardinia for about six centuries. Romans divided the island into two main regions: Romània and Barbària. The first one was located along the coast and its economically prosperous lands. The second one, called nowadays Barbagia, includes the interior of the island. An enclave difficult to access and inhabited by the people who Romans used to call Barbarians. Rebellious and hostile. Some say that the area was the only one that the Empire could not colonise.
162 people were kidnapped for ransom in Sardinia between 1960 and 1997. The Sardinian bandits, known as Anonima sequestri sarda, used to follow a set of unwritten norms called Codice barbaricino (The Barbagian code). Where common law falls short, a parallel justice is served through the code, in an attempt to protect the honor and the dignity of the individual.
In 2017, Matteo Boe, Farouk’s kidnapper is released after spending 25 years in jail.
Barbaria is an attempt to meet the man who symbolizes my fears as a child, while I try to decode the complex structure of the Sardinian kidnapping phenomenon. The hostage thinking about his family: will I ever see them again? The family who conform to a parallel justice as it considers the official one unreliable. The law which sees even itself inadequate to fight these crimes. The kidnappers who distrust the emissaries, their chosen spokesmen.
In Barbaria I am witness to a society weighed down by a past of isolation and colonisation. Suspicion, disillusion, obstinacy are some of the cardinal features of the Sardinian people. Features that culminate within the peaks of Barbagia.
Valeria Cherchi is a photographer based in Milan and Sardinia (IT). She studied at the Sapienza University of Rome and University of the Arts London. In 2016 she is one of the selected photographers for the masterclass with Simon Norfolk at the ISSP in Latvia. Her practice focuses on projects regarding social and cultural issues. This choice is dictated by a deep interest for the stories behind the person, and seeks to explore topics such as history, time and memories.