We meet again in the same place about something that we are passionate about: jewelry. It’s never too late to learn and know new things, it’s never too much information, and if we like something more than jewelry is knowledge.
In this article we move to an area rich in culture, colors and spirit: Africa.
Something very peculiar in this jewelry is the strong symbolism the jewels possesses and its importance is very reflected in each one of the tribes. From simple ornaments to the most elaborate, to those that were used for certain dances, in different marriage rituals or those that decorate the body to attract the attention of the opposite sex in order to establish a relationship.
Feathers, teeth, even skulls of small animals are used together with minerals and metals to create the most typical elements of African jewelry that looked and still shines in this territory.
Both men and women wore and still wear jewelry and characteristic ornaments, especially for dance in marriage rituals men dance covered in jewelry in a competition that leads the youngest woman to choose the most handsome among them.
Whereas in other ancient civilizations the jewels indicated the social status, in Africa the jewelery is used as a symbol of the one that has more strength or greater ability.
Jewelry and materials
Among the most common ornaments is the lip dish placed on the lower lip of the woman before her marriage. This practice is very common in the tribes of Ethiopia and is an instrument that serves to reinforce the mouth, where the word and traditions are transmitted. It is made in firewood, terracotta or ivory, and can measure up to 20 centimeters in diameter. The larger the dish indicates the symbol of more wealth, since it represents the number of layers of cattle that the woman’s family has.
African civilization always had adoration for colorful beads and especially for blue stone. Also the carnelian and the quartz were present in the African jewels from the Predynastic period. Yellow amber was widely used, even today, because it evokes solar attraction and protects the tribes from the shadows.
Coral, also known as “water tree” is used in African jewelry as a life-giving element and protective amulet. For its part, grey amber is also used and has an aphrodisiac power.
The small pearls were part of the decoration in the hair, bracelets and necklaces. Later, the colored glass pearls arrived to African jewelery and the artisans of Niger, Mauritania and Nigeria were the first to make decorations with this type of pearls.
While in the rest of the continent it was an article used for trade exchange and get in exchange incense, rhinoceros coma, turtle shells, palm oil, gold ingots, ivory and also slaves.Men and women wore pearls on the occasion of seduction due to their captivating colors and the sound they emit when they collide with the other elements of the jewel. Click To Tweet
The cowrie, a small shell that by its shape is related to the female sex and comes from the Egyptians, was used in the jewelry of this continent, and the Egyptian pharaohs placed it in the tombs in the imperial era.
Copies have been found in the Sahara and in Mali. These shells were used as currency and exchange merchandise and exchanged for gold. They were also used to complement the jewels and to give them more beauty.
And we come to gold, the material that almost all civilizations have used both in jewelry and in monetary function. But in the African tribes this was not the case: they used gold, above all, for their ornaments. It was mostly extracted from the Sahara and caused a stir among African artisans.
Senegalese goldsmiths became experts in the manipulation of gold in jewelery, combining African and European influences, thus creating unique pieces that were replicated in European markets for centuries.
Gold jewelry was used in rites and parties, such as bracelets, belts, necklaces and hair ornaments, rings were worn on each toe and hands. In significant celebrations the “disc of the soul” was carried, which was destined to nobles and priests with the aim of purifying the soul of the chief.
Bronze is another of the materials used in African jewelry. The technique of fusion allowed great freedom and fantasy in the execution of the jewels and decorations. In the nomadic population of the Niger, younger girls wore bronze anklets engraved with Islamic motifs, and the heavier they were, the more attractive they seemed to men.
In Côte d’Ivoire some large brass bracelets were used in the sanctuary, as a means of divinity and as a means to communicate with spirits. Others took enriched bells and colored stones in each part, with great symbology and giving wealth to the wearer, while in the tribe of Liberia the ankles in bronze are part of the dowry of the wife.The bronze necklaces were decorated with buffalo skulls. Click To Tweet
The buffalo were respected animals for their strength and cunning. They were represented in the necklaces because they represented the social importance of the wearer, only the highest dignitary sat in the assemblies, on the buffalo skull.
Silver, adored by artisans in rural areas and nomadic tribes, represents purity and honesty.
In the nomadic population of Berbers and Turks, chiefs and high-ranking guests used elongated silver rings as tobacco holders. The rings that represented some fighter on horseback were used by warriors, knights or “military heads” and carried during ceremonial rituals and prayers.
The refuge of the Hebrews in Africa during the period of the Inquisition brought to the African jewelry explosive colors, and also introduced the technique of “cloisonneé”, of Chinese origin, which is also known as alveolate enamel, and is an ancient technique for decoration of metal objects, in recent centuries through the use of glaze glaze, and in ancient periods through the use also of incrustations of precious stones, glass, and other materials.
Also, they introduced the technique of “niellatura”, which is the engraving in silver. The decorative elements used take stylized forms above all from nature, from the jackals that drove the evil spirits away, to the salamander that protects from fires, the serpent great defender of life, the pomegranate symbol of fertility, the almond of immortality, the spiral of eternity.
Today, African artisans are making jewelery and ornaments that are reminiscent of the ancient traditions of the population that have inhabited this continent for centuries.
Source: Mundo Étnico, Artes Étnicas