The Southern Cross

by Alaa Eddine Sagid

The Southern cross, Boghdad/Boghdod or Moghdad is widely seen in West Africa and Southern Morocco.

This type of pendant seems to be strongly connected to the Moors, and those with contact with the Moors, including the nomadic peoples in the Western part of the Sahara and all the other related groups as well as those who came under their influence, such as the sedentary people to the North such as the Harratine and south west Moroccan Berbers and the black skinned Sahel peoples in the region to the south. The Moors are of a complex heritage of Arab and Berber ethnic mix but it seems that a large part of their material culture was borrowed from the once thriving Ghana Kingdom established in Central South Mauritania. Their original Berber ancestors destroyed this Ghana kingdom before they themselves were eventually subjugated by the Bedouin Arab nomads coming from the east and the result gave the Moor’s.

Locally these pendants are called “Boghdad” which is likely a corruption of an older name (still partly used) which is “Moghdad”. Linguistically “Moghdad” seems to be an Arabic word which can be partly translated as ” the mother of….” the missing attribute of this mother is difficult to translate; I suggest that it could either suggest a shape or a functionality. So a surmised translation would give ” the mother of the generous shape” or ” the mother of the fertile glands” . (Please note that this is one theory that i have developed solely based on my researches.)

Similarly shaped pendants but of far larger sizes can be found among the black skinned Muslim groups deep into West Africa, reaching southwards to the North Ivory Coast, within the Kong tribe for instance who are possibly descendants of the defeated Ghana kingdom’s nobility. This shape could be a legacy of the old Ghana kingdom animistic religion revolving around a fertility cult. This kingdom converted to Islam shortly before it disappeared and thus had enough time to ‘recycle’ idols within the symbolism of the new religion.

Smaller examples from the Northern boundaries of the existance of the use of this symbol often showcase refined granulation and filigree work inherited from the Islamic and Jewish influences of the late Middle Ages, often enameled and sometimes also made in gold, also bearing a characteristic central dome possibly suggesting a fertile belly. Whereas the more southerly pieces are only crudely etched and remained bold and large.

The geographical and ethnological continuum here may have played a role in preserving the original function of the shape as a powerful talisman at least even if no longer understood as a representation of a female deity/goddess.

The misconception carried by the name with which they would be called later “Goulimime cross” came from the French colonial bias, the same that plagued the large array of the more famous Tuareg pendants. Pushing this reasoning further both these and their Tuareg counterparts could be the latest development of one and same original shape finding echoes and links with the Mediterranean Tanit goddess shape….the Carthaginian have had in fact a very deep and long lasting impact on this whole part of the African continent.

Those who are familiar with all these names and pieces can actually and amazingly find aesthetic similarities between all of them.

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