As dancers, we often think of piling on the jewelry: bracelets, necklaces, earrings and the like, but wanting to also have balance and create a unique yet consistent look with our dance sisters. There is nothing like a flash of silver, glass, or perhaps shell and leather at the throat of a tribal dancer that sets off a costume like no other adornment.
At the root, these have the same concept as the more representative hand most of us know as the hamsa. It's principle function is the "protection of the wearer." Their design differences are what give each their unique design.
Khomeissa or Khomissar Hamsa of the Imazighen
- The Khomeissa, in the form of a stylized, geometrical hand, is believed to ward off the evil eye, amd also doubles as a fertility symbol. It is made from shells.
- History - The Imazighen are part of the Berber culture with a traditionally nomadic lifestyle. They are the principal inhabitants of the vast majority of the middle and western Sahara, as well as the north-central Sahel. It has believed that they are likely descended from the ancient Libyan people of the kingdom of the Garamantes, described by Herodotus. They are historically referred to as Tuareg, meaning “abandoned by God” in Arabic. They prefer the term Amazigh, plural Imazighen - a word which means “free people.”
- For over two millennia, the Tuareg operated the trans-Saharan caravan trade connecting the great cities on the southern edge of the Sahara via five desert trade routes to the northern coast of Africa (Mediterranean).
- According to Tuareg Jewelry: Traditional Patterns and Symbols by Helen E. Hagan and Lucile C. Myers - the Khomeissa is associated with Khamsa (‘five’ in Arabic) and worn as a protection against the evil eye. It is thought to have been originally crated using five shells on a leather backing and worn on a leather string. Shell jewelry was reserved for the noble class of women. The book goes on to quote a Tuareg/Amazigh saying that a Tuareg woman would rather go naked that go without a khomeissa. 1
Authentic, beautiful North African amulets are to be treasured and truly complement any tribal costume.
• • • Take Away: Think of jewelry as dowry pieces. Go for the best you can afford!
Keep spinning adorned!
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*All hamsas pictured come from private collections. Clockwise starting from the left:
1. Enameled, high silver content Khomeissa 2. Shell Khomeissa backed on leather 3. Khomeissa, backed with leather with ebony inlay.
Footnote: 1 Helen E. Hagan and Lucile C. Myers, Tuareg Jewelry: Traditional Patterns and Symbols (XLibris; First Edition edition, 2006).