by Sarah Corbett
The attire of a Tuareg woman of the African Sahara consists of a large rectangular piece of fabric. The fabric, also known as Mellhafa is held in place in the billowing winds of the Sahara by a very particular and unique piece of jewellery.
The Asrou n swoul, meaning the key which will be thrown over the shoulder is a very functional jewel and many examples are also extremely beautiful.
The fine metalworking skills of the Saharan Kel Inaden ( silversmith) is often seen at it’s height when observing the Asrou n swoul, examples bearing intricate etching upon sandwiched layers of Copper, brass, silver Acacia, ivory and ebony are especially detailed and beautiful.
There are many different designs of the Asrou n swoul, the shape and style of most of them is related to the image of Tanit, the original Punic goddess.
In the simplest form, these practical jewels can literally be a bunch of keys, Examples from Mali are sometimes made from a wide, yet short open cutwork piece of metal, which is adorned with chains suspending ‘exotic’ European keys!
Some examples are just in one layer of metal, but the most opulent and largest, which would have belonged to wealthy Tuareg women are large and ornate with dimensional décor and splendid etching to the surfaces.
One theory of the development of these very particular items is that the keys used by the Tuareg, to secure wonderful intricate locks, were the basis of the design for the Asrou n swoul.