THE TIBETAN GAU AMULET CONTAINER

(Cover image: Metropolitan Museum NY)

The charm box pendant called the ga’u originated in Tibet. This sort of jewellery is in wide use throughout the western and eastern sub-Himalayan area by tribes who follow Buddhism and others who emulate them, though the local term used to designate it varies with the group.

The origin of the charm container-pendant in Tibet can be traced to the often inhospitable environment. Violent natural phenomena, such as seasonal floods, hail, wind and sandstorms affect the success of the crops upon which the people’s very existence depends. The use of protective charms and amulets, which were already used before the arrival of Buddhism, were meant to protect against this natural disasters.

 

Old ga’u amulet containers from Ladakh

 

Almost every man, women and child in Buddhist Tibet and the Himalayan area of India carries a variety of charms and amulets on them. It is essential that the charm is in physical contact with the body.

The ga’u is a complex of form, function and symbolism. It can be of copper, brass or bronze, or a combination of these. Many are made of silver which may be used for the entire object, or only its visible front, in which case the back half is usually copper, brass or iron. Tibet is rich in gold and those who can afford it have their ga’us made of that precious metal.

 

A gold Ga’u being made for a wedding, in Leh, Ladakh

Because a ga’u functions as a container to hold and protect the various charms placed within, they consist of two basic parts that fit together, so the access to its inner space is possible. The most common ga’u content are handwritten or printed charms, chosen for specific purposes and adapted to the wearer’s need. Objects believed to have magical virtues can also be placed inside.

Whatever its form, a charm is inert and powerless until it has been consecrated by a lama. At the same time, should it ever become necessary to sell a ga’u, all of its contents are removed and saved, and the seller rubs the ga’u on his/her body to return him/herself the spiritual good luck it contains, and a small recitation ceremony may be performed.


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Handwritten charm inside a Ga’u

 

Traditional ga’us form can be classified according to their basic shape, some of which are regionally distinctive. In Ladakh, besides using the forms that are typically Tibetan, women wear a necklace consisting of a series of miniature, backless ga’us of double-sided-ogee and oval form (see picture). In central and western Tibet women show a preference for the square, some with projecting points on all four sides. The size can range from small to enormous.

gau-necklace   No matter what the ga’u shape, its top is provided with either a single tube or one made in three parts from which the ga’u is suspended together with many beads. At the bottom of most gau’s is usually found a double-ended facet pointed appending form that symbolizes the diamond thunderbolt (dorje), Many books in which illustrations of ga’us appear, show them, incorrectly, upside down with the dorje at the top.

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Other type of ga’us are the small ones worn by high rank official in pre-chinese Tibet, fixed in their hair-plaites topknot. Some children have them attached to their bonnet for protection against illness. Some other bigger ga’us are used when traveling as portable shrines and hang from the shoulder instead that from the neck.

Leonor Arnó

Information taken from:
“Traditional Jewelry of India”  Untracht, Oppi
“Jewellery of Tibet and the Himalayas” Clarke, John
“Gold jewellery from Tibet and Nepal” Singer, Jane Casey

 

JOSEP TAPIRÓ, SPANISH ORIENTALIST (1836-1913)

(Versión en español más abajo)

A new exhibition, at the Museu Nacional de Catalunya (Barcelona) is setting out to restore the figure of Josep Tapiró to its rightful place as one of the leading representatives of international Orientalism. Josep Tapiró i Baró (Reus 1836-1913), the first painter from the Iberian Peninsula to settle in Tangier, was a direct witness of the extraordinary urban and cultural transformation of this city, where he lived from 1876 until his death.

Josep_Tapiró_-_Berber_Bride_-_Google_Art_Project

Throughout those years, Tapiró undertook an almost scientific study of North African society and, apart from its artistic quality, his work is an important testimonial document of a world in retreat before European colonial pressure. The people, sumptuous clothes and spectacular moroccan and berber piece of jewelry were accurately painted by him.

 

berber jewelry

At the death of his great friend Marià Fortuny, Tapiró took over from him and decided to go deeper into the understanding of the North-African world with the object of presenting it rigorously in pictures. His best-known works are the series of busts and half-length portraits of traditional characters, the portraits of brides and the scenes that portray religious traditions. But apart from his work’s indisputable ethnic value, Tapiró, as this exhibition shows, was an absolutely extraordinary artist with a marked personality and a language of his own and a virtuoso watercolourist, who for years has enjoyed widespread international recognition.

 

(Spanish version)

JOSEP TAPIRÓ, PINTOR ORIENTALISTA(1836-1913). EXPOSICIÓN EN BARCELONA

En el siglo XIX la ciudad de Tánger se convirtió en fuente de inspiración de los artistas que querían representar un mundo oriental exótico. La mayoría conocieron sus calles de paso y, en casi todos los casos, sus obras reflejaron una imagen epidérmica que reproducía los clichés habituales del género orientalista. Josep Tapiró (Reus, 1836 – Tánger, 1913) en cambio, adquirió un compromiso vital con aquella realidad. En 1877, después de haber vivido en Roma durante quince años y tras consolidarse como pintor acuarelista, se instaló y ubicó su estudio en el corazón de la medina tangerina. Desde este lugar y a lo largo de más de tres décadas, sus pinceles inmortalizaron la vida tradicional y, sobre todo, el aspecto de los tangerinos más pintorescos. Con un estilo virtuoso, que alcanzaba una extraordinaria verosimilitud, convertía sus imágenes en verdaderos documentos testimoniales de un mundo en retroceso ante la rápida europeización de la ciudad.

En el mercado artístico internacional, sus obras fueron consideradas entre las mejores del género orientalista, y se vendían a precios elevados en las galerías más prestigiosas de Londres, ciudad a la que el artista viajaba casi todos los años. Asimismo, en su ciudad adoptiva, muy pronto fue considerado un personaje ilustre, lo que le facilitó la consecución de modelos y la venta de obras a tangerinos adinerados y a los visitantes de la medina. Su taller era lugar de visita obligada para los aficionados al arte que recalaban en la bahía norteafricana, y la calle donde se encontraba se llamó, desde finales del siglo XIX, Estudio Tapiró, en reconocimiento a su prestigio. Desgraciadamente, después de su muerte, diversas circunstancias relegaron su figura casi al olvido. Cuando se han cumplido cien años de su desaparición, el Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya reivindica su obra y muestra una selección de las mejores acuarelas tangerinas.

Para más información sobre la exposición: http://www.museunacional.cat/es/josep-tapiro-pintor-de-tanger

 

JOYERÍA ÉTNICA MAPUCHE – ETHNIC MAPUCHE JEWELLERY

(English translation further down)

La joya étnica Mapuche es la gran desconocida para los amantes de la joya étnica. Siendo un trabajo de orfebre sin grandes desafíos técnicos, estéticamente tiene una gran fuerza por la simplicidad de sus formas y la gran originalidad de sus modelos.

mapuche jewelry
Joyería Mapuche-dibujo José Pérez de Arce

Los mapuches  habitan una región de los Andes, a caballo entre Argentina y Chile, entre el rio Aconcagua y la isla Chiloé. Sus pobladores están muy aferrados a su tierra y a sus costumbres, y cuentan con una rica cosmogonía que centra sus principios en su apego al territorio ancestral,  plasmado después en los objetos cotidianos como la cerámica, los textiles y la joyería. Es también el pueblo que resistió tres siglos y medio a la conquista, primero del invasor español, y después a la colonización chilena.

 

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Joyería Mapuche – foto J.C. Gedda
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Joyería Mapuche – foto J.C. Gedda

La joya mapuche tradicional está hecha en plata, trabajada en estructuras básicas de tubos, pequeñas cuentas, planchas y cadenas. La combinación de estos elementos y su decoración grabada conforman la peculiaridad de estas joyas. Las mujeres mapuches tienen en gran consideración estos adornos de plata, que llevan en ocasiones especiales e importantes, en festivales y viajes. Tanto las formas como los motivos grabados en los adornos reproducen su vínculo esotérico con la tierra y los dioses, y por lo tanto la mujer mapuche se siente protegida y dignificada cuando lleva estas joyas.

Los hombres también utilizan aderezos de plata en el engalanado de los caballos, costumbre que, de hecho, proviene de los españoles, que a su vez lo recibieron de los árabes.

El origen de estas joyas tal y como las conocemos no es prehispánico, como se podría pensar en un primer momento, sino que, con la llegada de los españoles, los orfebres mapuches (llamados retrafes) empezaron a reproducir en plata (proporcionada por los mismos españoles) las joyas que ya fabricaban en cobre y oro (no hay minas de plata en esta zona).  Parece ser que las técnicas de orfebrería usadas con anterioridad eran muy básicas, pero con los españoles aprenden la complejidad de la técnica, lo que les permite llevar la joyería mapuche a su esplendor en la segunda mitad del siglo XIX, momento a partir del cual empieza a decaer.

Las pequeñas cuentas de cristal de colores fueron otro elemento de intercambio con los españoles, con las que se realizaron  bonitos collares que han pasado de madres a hijas y a los que dan mucha importancia en los rituales y rezos.

 

Joyería Mapuche – foto J.C. Gedda

Desde principios del siglo XX se ha ido abandonando la la tradición mapuche en el trabajo de la plata, y su desaparición es debida a diferentes causas. La más decisiva fue la pérdida de sus territorios a principios del siglo XX y su reclusión en “reducciones”, con lo que la población empobreció y emigró. Por otro lado, la plata, que llegaba a la región gracias a las monedas de plata chilenas que eran fundidas, también desaparece, ya que las monedas dejan de hacerse en este material.

Desgraciadamente los orfebres mapuches o retrafes ya son prácticamente inexistentes, y las joyas originales mapuches que todavía existen y no fueron fundidas en su momento perviven en museos y colecciones particulares. Están catalogadas alrededor de 4.000 piezas anteriores al siglo XX.

 

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English version:

MAPUCHE ETHNIC ADORNMENT

Mapuche traditional adornment is the great unknown for lovers of ethnic jewelry. Being a silversmith work without major technical challenges, it has great aesthetic strength for the simplicity of its shapes and the great originality of its designs.

The Mapuche people live on the Andes Mountains, straddling Argentina and Chile, between the Aconcagua River and Chiloé Island. Its inhabitants are very wedded to their land and their customs, and have a rich cosmology that focuses its principles in their attachment to ancestral territories, then embodied in everyday objects such as ceramics, textiles and jewellery. It is also the people who resisted three and half centuries of conquest, first by Spanish invader, and then by the Chilean colonization.

Traditional Mapuche jewelry is made of silver, worked in basic structures of tubes, small beads, plates and chains. The combination of these elements and their engraved decoration make these jewels so peculiar. Mapuche women have great consideration for these silver ornaments, which are worn at special and important occasions, festivals and trips to the city. Both shapes and patterns etched on the silver reproduce their esoteric connection with the land and the gods, and therefore these jewels dignify and protect Mapuche women.

Men also use silver dressings in horses decoration, habit that, in fact, comes from the Spanish, who in turn received it from the Arabs.

The origin of this silver jewellery is not prehispanic, as we might think at first, but it started with the arrival of the Spaniards. The silversmiths or retrafes reproduced in silver (brought by the Spaniards themselves) the jewels they already manufactured in copper and gold (no silver mines in this area). The techniques used previously by the retrafes were very basic, but with the Spaniards they learnt the complexity of the technique, which allowed them to bring  Mapuche jewelry to its highest splendor on the second half of the nineteenth century , before it started to decay.

The small colored glass beads were another element of exchange with the Spaniards, from which women made beautiful necklaces that were inherited from mother to daughter and which are very important when rituals and prayers are performed.

Since the early twentieth century the Mapuche tradicional work on silver has been abandoned, and its disappearance is due to different causes. The most overriding was the loss of their lands in the early twentieth century, when the population was then placed in “reductions”, where they impoverished and emigrated. Moreover, the silver, coming to the region by Chilean silver coins that were melted, also disappeared, since currencies ceased to be made of this material.

Unfortunately the Mapuche silversmiths (called retrafes) are practically nonexistent now, and the Mapuche original jewellery that still exists and was not cast, survive in museums and private collections. There are now about 4,000 Mapuche pieces of jewellery cataloged.

mapuche-jewelry
mapuche jewelry – picture by J.C. Gedda

BERBER JEWELRY OF MOROCCO

I’ve visited this week this magnificent exhibition in the Yves Saint-Laurent Foundation located in Paris, not far from the Quai Branly Museum.

The quality of the jewels exhibited is amazing, items which are imposible to see on the market anymore.  A big part of them are from the own collection of Yves Saint Laurent and normally on display at the Berber Museum at the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh, a city he loved and visited many times from the 60’s, even before it was on the tourist route of many low cost air companies.

 

berber jewelry

 

The exhibition is centered on different issues related to the daily lives of Berber women and around their specific skills in a number of domains, including weaving, pottery, basketry, the production of argan oil, dance, festivals, and moussems -also impressive the rugs collection-,  But the showcases and videos showing the everyday live are eclipsed by the sumptuousity and extraordinary craftmanship of the jewellery exhibited.

 

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It’s worth noting the perfect display of all items in the exhibition, with showcases with black background and focused illumination and black walls with low light intensity. The exhibition is complemented with a multimedia presentation, human size, of the clothing on different Moroccan regions. This allows the public to see, on one hand, the Berber jewelry at its best in each showcase, and on the other hand allows the visitor  to see all ethnic adornment  in context with the corresponding attire, also by region.

The exhibition will be on until July 20, 2014

 

berber jewellery

 

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(Images from the catalogue of the exhibition)

PRAYER BEADS AND ROSARIES

In western cultures we may associate prayer beads to  Christianity and Middle Ages. In fact their use is universal and pre-dates the Christian Era. Even today the religions of nearly two thirds of the world’s population utilize some form of prayer beads:  Muslims, Buddhists and Christians.

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Very old Buddhist mala, made of lama bones, Tibet

The use of prayer beads came from the early urge to count prayers. Probably, in the beginning, fingers or pebbles moved from one pile to another was the way to do it. Later on, a cord were some knots were tied was used. In fact, the ”konbolion” is a knotted rosary still employed nowadays in the Greek Orthodox Church. Also used until recently (S. XIX in Germany) was a  thong of leather with bone rings attached, which was already found in 8th  century graves.

Even though the number, arrangements and materials of prayer beads are different with each religion, there are shared concepts that links the beads of the major faiths, like the symbolic associations made between flowers (particularly the rose) and gardens and prayer beads. The name for prayer beads in Tibet and India is the Sanskrit word mala: it means “garden” or “garland of flowers”. The Roman Catholic rosary has also a rich historical relationship with rose garlands and rose gardens.

Another similarity is that the number of beads used are predominantly a multiple of three, related to the Buddhist triad (Budha, the doctrine and the community) and also to the Roman Catholic Trinity (The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost). The Buddhist  and Hindu rosaries have usually 108 beads, the Muslim 99 and the Roman Catholic 150. The rosaries also share a talismanic protective meaning in all religions that could be enforced by using prophylactic materials as coral or carnelian. On the contrary, counting beads should induce to a meditative state in Eastern religions, in contrast to the Westerner, who encouraged to think while reciting prayers.

The use of beads to count prayers  appears to have originated with the Hindus in India (there is a sandstone sculpture from the II century B.C. portraying Hindu sages holding rosaries), but it can also be traced earlier when Buddhism was founded in the 5th century B.C.  Later on Buddhist followers in Tibet, China and Japan adopted the use of rosaries.

Rudraksha hindu rosary
Rudraksha hindu rosary, India

Still today prayer beads are central to the life of many Hindus, and prayers are repeated for hours daily. Two basic types of prayer beads (mala) correspond to the two major Hindu cults of Shiva and Vishnu. For the last thousand years, the devotees of Shiva have carried rosaries of rudraksha, a seed of the Elaeocarpus, with E. ganitrus.  Vishnu rosaries are made from tulsi, the holy basil Ocimum sanctum.

Buddhism incorporated a wide range of materials for the mala, according to the unlimited tolerance as an essential principle of this faith. In old Tibet nearly everyone carried or wore prayer beads of wood, shell, amber, semiprecious or precious stone, though the most prized beads there were made from the bones of a lama. Characteristics of  Buddhist mala are the two strings attached to the main strand with ten smaller beads, known as “number keepers” or counters.  They are used to keep track of the number of times the user recites his prayers. The counters strings generally terminate with two small pendants, the djore and the drilbu. In addition, other personal odds and ends can be found attached to the rosaries such as tweezers or keys.

The Buddhist rosary took on unique forms in Japan, being the most widely used the rosary with 112 beads. Wood was the preferred material. In China prayer beads have never been widespread and they were used primarily for status rather than for praying.

The Muslims probably derived the concept of prayer beads from Buddhism. Muslim rosaries have 99 beads which are used to recite the 99 attributes of God. The one hundredth bigger “leader bead” is reserved for saying the name of God, Allah. Islamic prayer beads are made of wood, including acacia, olivewood, ebony, sycamore and sandalwood. Materials as bone, ivory, coral, amber, carnelian, agate, lapis lazuli and glass have also been used. In Mogul India pearls, rubies, emeralds and sapphires were the beads of the court.  Prayer beads produced in Mecca are still nowadays highly appreciated.

Muslim prayer beadsThe Christian rosary began to be used on the Middle Ages at monasteries at around the 10th century A.D. The main theory is that prayer beads came through the Muslims followers by the influence of the Crusaders coming back home, or it could also come along with the Arab invasion beginning in the south of Spain. The 150 beads known as the “Ave beads” correspond to the number of psalms, and are used for reciting the Hail Mary prayer. During the medieval period, when jewelry was discouraged by the church, rosaries were acceptable as convenient portable devices for counting prayer but were then used to show the wealth of the wearer using the most luxurious materials.

Primarily in reaction to these excesses, Protestants do not use prayer beads. Judaism also excludes them, as they consider these beads magical and therefore pagan.

Leonor Arnó

SCENTED PASTE BEADS NECKLACES OF NORTH AFRICA

There’s a type of adornment in Northern Africa that is well known in all Maghreb: the scented beads necklace, called “Skhab”, which has a symbolic and ritual meaning, due to the perfum it exhaled. It is mainly used in Algeria and Tunisia, while in Morrocco, the used of cloves for the same purposes is more extended.

copyright. Christoph Sandig. Bir collection

Tunisian scented paste necklace, Bir collection, Photo: Christoph Sandig

 

The origin of these necklaces is not clear. Some researchers claim it to be of berber origin (P. Eudel), while others think that they might have come with the arab invasion.

The used of these  perfumed necklaces is widespread in rural Algeria and Tunisia, but it’s also well known in big cities, where women can buy them from jewelry shops, strung with gold beads and pendants. In small villages, women prepare the paste themselves. The ingredients can be different from one region to the other, but the principle is the same: the making of a very strong perfumed formable paste from which small beads are modelled in different shapes, (pyramids, cilinders, triangles) and strung later into a necklace.

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Beautiful Argelian Skhab, Musée de l’Homme, Paris

 

The mash is made basically with cloves, saffron, nard and patchouli, mixed with some other liquid ingredients like musc, rose water and benzoin. It can also be mixed with dates or egg white (in Mzab, Argelia) or butter (Djebel Armour, Argelia). In big cities the scented paste is usually blended with grey amber (a concretion on the intestins of the sperm-whale). The mixture  is left to dry during 3 days on a shadow place. Then, women shape the beads and make the hole to string them.  The scented beads are strung in differents lines making groups. There are 2 or 4 series of these groups on each necklace. On rural villages they can be mixed with red coral  beads and  a central pendant, usually a silver Hamsa, together with other silver or glass beads. After the necklace is completed, the beads will retain the strong and penetrant smell for years.  In big cities, like Constantine, Alger or Tunis, the beads are strung with gold filigree pendants and beads, making a big necklace. Nowadays They can be seen and purchased on jewellery shops on these cities.

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Two examples of recently made “skhab” necklaces

 

The rules to wear this necklace are significant of its symbolic meaning: Perfums and scents have always ben an erotic element,  also in North African culture. Only married women can wear them when they are with their husbands. If he leaves on a journey, the necklace has to be kept in a chest, away from the regard of other people. Young non married women can not even touch it, because it has strong aphrodisiac properties. That’s why this item of jewellery has an important role on marriage ceremony.

But this scented necklace, together with the morroccan cloves necklaces, have also a prophylactic meaning. It can protect the wearer against illness and the evil eye, as they are believed to keep the “djinns” away.

Leonor Arnó