by Sarah Corbett
Sometimes in the world of bead collecting a style of bead comes to the foreground in terms of interest and desirability.
In recent years the Aggrab Al fadda bead has been that specimen. This silver hollow bead is from Mauritania.
The term Aggrab means bag, Al Fadda denotes a bag made from the body of a goat.
These goat skin bags would be used in areas of North and West Africa to carry and store water. The cured goat hide is lined with tar, and creates an effective vessel to contain liquids. Such bags are still used by water sellers ( Garrab) in Morocco.
As with many other symbolic jewels worn around the world, the connection between life giving water supply and the design of the bead to be worn to denote life and fertility is clear.
The beads themselves are finely worked and generally in silver, although aluminium examples are known and I have recently been advised that examples in gold exist.
Created from thin hammered silver sheet and made in two halves which are joined to make a hollow bead. Decor and size can vary stylistically, though it is generally hammered onto the surface of the bead, some examples have added granulation, perhaps a show of wealth.
Very few historic photographs exist of Mauritanian women in jewels, and to date I am aware of just one which shows these beads worn.
The beads are used to adorn the hair, and threaded in mixed strands with amber, carnelian and other beads. Traditionally the long tresses of a Saharan woman are seen to be an indication of suitability for childbearing, so it seems very logical to me that these symbols of life and fertility should be added to the hair.
In Delaozieres book – Les perles de Mauritanie (1985) the beads are described as rare and made in Mauritania with echoes of the beads of the Toucoleur.
As with each favourite of the jewel market the rise in demand leads to the production of new versions of this bead and now alongside the rare old examples, new production of these endearing beauties has been seen in the past decades.