BEYOND THE GLITTER
Berber jewellery serves a much wider purpose than simple adornment. The jewellery a woman
wears identifies her as a member of a clan or tribe, it is a sign of her wealth, it reflects cultural
traditions and it has power beyond the visual, to protect her from the evil eye.
A woman will receive jewellery from her mother until she marries. For her marriage, her future
husband will commission his mother or sister to provide jewellery for her and these will be kept
by her as dowry and added to throughout her life. This jewellery will always be made of silver,
as gold is considered evil.
Necklaces are important, the traditional assemblage in the southern oasis valleys sometimes featuring talismans of silver, pink coral, amazonite, amber, Czech glass and West African ebony beads. A woman will also have bracelets, fibulas (elaborate brooches, often triangular, used for fastening garments), anklets, earrings and headdresses. Some pieces will be worn every day, others – the finest – will be saved for occasions such as festivals, pilgrimages and funerals.
The protective, medicinal and magical properties of jewellery are extremely important. The necklaces contain charms bought from magicians or holy men, which offer protection against the evil eye, disease, accidents and difficulties in childbirth. Silver is believed to cure rheumatism; coral symbolises fertility and is thought to have curative powers; amber is worn as a symbol of wealth and to protect against sorcery (it’s also considered an aphrodisiac and a cure for colds); amazonite and carnelian stones are used in divining fortunes; and shells traded from East Africa symbolise fertility.
Talismans feature stylised motifs of animals, sun, moon and stars, all of which are believed to have supernatural powers. A common symbol to ward off the evil eye is the hand of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed. Any depiction of the hand (which represents human creative power and dominance) or of the number five is believed to have the same effect as metaphorically