By Sarah Corbett
Let’s Share a journey…
A journey to three places which have a jewel connection.
Let’s explore the reasons behind these connections.
India, Yemen, Oman.
The drive to adorn reaches back in time, I believe that it is a basic human drive.
At the start, in a cave in what is now Morocco evidence of the earliest known intentional human adornment was discovered. 142,000 years ago a creative hunter gatherer intentionally drilled holes into shells in order to wear them. Over millennia shells like these became a form of currency, a visual indicator of wealth and status.
Adornment became desirable and was valued.
Unknowingly this hunter gatherer stood at the beginning of a path which extends through place and time to us today.
In Muscat, Oman a 2300-year-old burial chamber was excavated (The Sinaw Excavation) and found to contain a sword which had been made in the Indus Valley. This sword was a high-status possession and had travelled over 1500 kilometers to Oman. The Sinaw Excavation evidences wide trade routes of this time.
An exhibition in the Asian Civilisation Museum in Singapore showcases the salvaged cargo of the Tang shipwreck which was discovered 600km south of Singapore. The Arab trading ship was built in the Persian Gulf and was filled with an assortment of Chinese ceramics which had been mass produced to appeal to customers along its trading route. Including pitchers destined for Java and Dishes destined for the Middle East. Trade by Sea was big business. The cargo of this sunken boat evidences the scale and reach of maritime trade on the 9th century.
By the late middle ages, a vast network of Maritime trade routes had been established.
These trade routes carry more than cargo. Knowledge, beliefs, and people are carried too.
The ancient ports of Hadraumat in Yemen, Al Balid in Oman and Muziriz in India were all recorded by travellers in the late Middle Ages. Notably; Ibn Al Mujawir (1204-1291) and Marco Polo (1254-1324). Both described these ports as vibrant busy places, places which were filled with people of many origins, Visitors, Merchants and traders from around the world were present.
People do not stay still. Ideas do not stay still. Jewellery does not stay still.
Jewish silversmiths of the Banu Kainuka tribe fled what is now Medina in Saudi Arabia upon the arrival of Mohammed in 622AD. They settled in Yemen. At this time Qur’anic law forbade Muslims from working with precious metals. Therefore business thrived for the highly skilled Jewish artisans.
Notable names of Yemenite silversmiths are the Bawsani and Badihi families. Until 1920 their pieces often bore an signature and they are highly prized today. Many generations of these families continued to work in Sa’ana until the Yemeni jews went to Israel to live between 1800 and 1959.
In the 17th century silversmiths from Iran and India worked side by side in Zanzibar and Oman. Influences from both can be seen in Omani jewellery and in other arts and crafts of Oman and Zanzibar.
Skills, Techniques and styles were shared, exchanged and developed over time.
By observing a silver belt from Yemen and a silver anklet from Rajasthan we can easily observe the relationship in construction techniques.
Other techniques also appear in diverse places.
Granulation is created by fusing spheres of silver or gold to a plain surface of the same type of metal. The technique can be used to create stunning surface designs and adds weight and value in terms of materials and work hours invested into a piece of adornment. The weight, the intricacy, and the size of granulation are all factors indicating the wealth and status of the owner.
Granulation was used in India and in Yemen.
In Yemen it became a very popular style choice. Seen in bracelets and necklaces from Sa’ana and in exceptional early earrings from Andhra Pradesh in India (Dating from the 1st century BCE)
Materials travel too!
Omani jewellery is often augmented with gold sheet. If we closely examine the gold sheet used in Omani jewellery, we will frequently find a representation of Hindu deities. This is a surprising image to discover of a jewel for a Muslim. The gold sheets were imported from India, they were made in India using the stamps which were also used to create Patri pendants which were sold to be worn by Hindus locally. The use of this exotic imported gold element in Omani jewellery would show the wealth and status of the groom’s family who would give such treasures as wedding dowry.
The religious context of the Hindu symbols is lost to the wearer and maybe also the creator, as if we look closely we can see that poor hanuman has been placed upside down and at different angles throughout such a piece.
There are endless aspects of jewel designs which are symbolic and often relate to protection, rites of passage and fertility.
A lesser understood symbol found as a part of jewellery in India, Yemen and Oman is the mulberry. In some cultures a Mulberry tree symbolises the divine link between Earth and Heaven. For others it is a symbol related to high status for its association with silk.
A stack of spheres arranged in a pyramid represents the mulberry. This element can be seen on items from Oman, Earrings from Assyria and a hirz from Yemen.
This motif is recognised as a mulberry in all of these locations.
Jewellery and belief are intertwined. Amulets worn to protect are essential.
A hirz pendant is designed to hold papers upon which are written or printed protective texts which are significant to the wearer. These words of faith and power are worn to repel Djinn, demons, and the bad energy of those who may wish to harm the wearer.
Hirz pendants are essentially a tube sealed at each end and with bails for suspension on the upper edge. They are worn in India, Oman and Yemen.
The basic forms are the same, yet the size, surface decoration and styling instantly reveal the origin of the piece, and historically of it’s wearer.
Amulet boxes serve the same purpose as a Hirz and the two styles are often worn together. …The world can be a tricky place and a little extra protection is always worthwhile!
The stories of adornment are plentiful, stories which are woven through a network of human connections.
These beautiful and meaningful elements, and those who strive to understand them are on a journey which began 142,000 years ago in Morocco, and continues to this day.