Pendants. Chockers. Lockets. Medallions. Chains. Contrary to popular opinion, accessories that adorn the neck with a flowing encirclement of fabric or metal have been popular for millennia among both men and women. Whether it’s casual trinketry or luxury jewellery, as you can see here, jewellery is not a single gendered affair.
If you are headed off on a globe-galloping journey any time soon, and you are wanting a wearable memento of your travels that you can understand the meaning of, possibly keep an eye out for one of the following:
Tuareg Crosses – Sometimes known as the “blue people” because of the traditional indigo dye they colour their clothes, the Tuareg are a nomadic people group who generally move between and around North Western Africa, mostly Niger, Mali, Bakino Faso, Algeria, and Tunisia.
Although they are a majority Muslim people, their jewellery symbol is a cross – specifically one made of silver, a metal strongly associated with the prophet Mohammad. The cross symbolises the four corners of the world, and is supposed to represent the nomadic nature of the Tuareg, and that they do not know where they will die. When worn among their own number, the crosses are often passed down from Father to Son.
Greek Kombolói – Although the Greek Orthodox Church also uses prayer ropes as part of its ritualistic practices, the Kombolói or “worry beads” are a distinct and much more cultural phenomenon in the land of Herodotus, Socrates, and Archimedes.
The repetitive clicking of the beads has been used for everything from a means of pleasing diversion amidst tedium, or as a superstitious amulet to guard against the fateful forces of bad luck, or even as something to give your fingers a task while you crave a nicotine hit from a cigarette. Popular male figures who have been seen wearing them in the past include Andreas Papandreou, former Greek Prime Minister, and the Greek business tycoon Aristotle Onassis, the owner of the world’s largest private shipping fleet.
Celtic Torq – In archaeological digs, this type of jewellery is found equally commonly among the warriors, women, spiritual leaders, and even adorning the statues of ancient Celtic settlements in Scotland, Ireland, and parts of Wales. To best imagine a Torq, imagine a tiara for your neck, or a bracelet that stretches around your clavicle. Unlike several other types of necklace, this is a fixed piece of metal, bent into a circle or an arc.
The ancient Celts used Torqs as a symbol of protection, be it magical or divine or from the power of rank and prestige. Some of the lighter ones were found in the graves of soldiers as part of their ceremonial battle dress. They were fitted with stones and beads within a criss-crossed front section that could be rattled and shook as an intimidation factor ahead of battle. A more ornate pre-cursor to the football rattle.
Navajo Turquoise – Whether you were a man, a woman, or a child, if you were anyone who wanted to be seen as anyone in the pre-Colombian Navajo world, you needed to be wearing Doo tl’ izh ii – known to the western world as Turquoise. Often known as the “stone of life” because of its rapid ability to change colour in reaction to everything from temperature to the wearer’s skin acidity, it features prominently in Navajo myth and legend. When praying to the deities of the wind, they would often throw pieces of Turquoise into the air, believing the whirling howls of the wind were the spirits striving to seek out the stones.
Everything changed when silver entered the game with the arrival of Europeans, and Atsidi Sani (Sometimes known as “Old Smith”) became the first Navajo blacksmith, and Atsidi Chon (or “Ugly Smith”) began using silver as a mounting mineral for Turquoise. As well as silver becoming a de facto currency for the South Western Native American tribes, your standing in society could be effectively measured by how many stones of Turquoise they wore, and how big each one was.
Everywhere in the world you go, jewellery is far more than a form of decoration. It communicates values, beliefs, ideas, and interests. When you travel, take a chance to stop and see the stands where they sell such things. Look closer, ask questions, and don’t let your gender hold you back on what you discover.