USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘jewelry’
Customs

Kara- A Steel Bracelet worn by Sikhs

Informant is a student at USC, and is a practicioner of the Sikh religion.

“The Kara is a plain, completely round steel bracelet worn by all Sikhs to identify themselves to other Sikhs. You receive it right when you are born, and you’re supposed to wear it until you die. Well, I guess that you have to swap it out once it gets too small on you, but that’s besides the point. It is a form of identification so that everyone would know that we were Sikhs, because the Sikhs were known as the protectors of people from the Mughal empire. It is also a charm that protects you from bad spirits, and the circular shape is used to represent and remind us of the infiniteness of God. It is always made of steel so that everybody is equal. Like, the peasants will wear steel karas and the richest people would wear steel karas too, to show that everybody was the same under the eyes of God. So I wear one, and all of my family wears them as well, as a sign that we are Sikhs.”

 

Collector’s Comments:

This is a very good example of jewelry that is worn for religious reasons. This is very interesting to me personally, because I have seen a few people who are Sikhs wearing the same bracelet, but I had not known what the purpose was. It is also very interesting because this is an identifying mark within the Sikh community so that other members can recognize each other, so even today, beyond its religious significance, it serves a functional purpose.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Gold Is A Girl’s Best Friend

“On my mom’s side of the family, because my mom’s side of the family is really rich, um, in India, like, her father’s, like, an advisor to someone super important, and he’s a professor at this like super prestigious university. And they have, like, slaves, and it’s just weird to think of my mom’s family being rich in India when we’re middle-class here. Ummm, but, so, I guess, I think it’s a South Indian tradition, but I know it’s definitely a big thing on her side of the family is when your eighteen-year old daughter or when your daughter turns eighteen years old, you like give her gold, like, just like, whatever every singly side person in my mom’s side of the family sent me something gold for my birthday when I turned eighteen. A lot of gold! It was all like earrings and like necklaces and stuff like that, and I don’t wear any of that, and my mom wouldn’t give it to me because she was like, ‘You’re gonna lose it.’ Umm so I just have all of this gold at home that’s like mine, and yeah, that’s a thing. In Indian culture, like jewelry and like umm that sort of stuff is really important like to the point of being sacred. Ummm, like you have, I don’t know what it’s called, but like the giant ummm nose ring that connects to the earring umm like that is a sacred thing that they wear in like wedding rituals and stuff like that, ummm. So just like, jewelry’s really important and the eighteenth birthday is obviously really important, and I feel like that’s where the tradition comes from.”

 

On top of the jewelry being sacred, this tradition sounds like something that’s done for dowry purposes. Once a woman turns eighteen, she’s of proper marrying age, right? So if she’s of proper marrying age, she’s going to need a dowry and property for when she gets married. The gifting of jewelry and gold marks this transition into womanhood, honors whatever sacredness comes along with this tradition, and also prepares the woman with a dowry in the case of marriage. It just goes to show how much the culture depends on money to reflect who you are as a person. It’s very different from our society. While we do look up to people who have money, it doesn’t seem to reflect on our character as much as it does in India.

Legends
Magic
Myths
Protection

The Origin of Red Coral

Context:

I was perusing a shop in Lahaina, HI that sold coral jewelry, when I asked the manager about the origins of the practice of wearing coral as jewelry.

 

Interview:

Me: So why did people begin to wear coral for jewelry?

Informant: Well, in the Mediterranean, the practice of wearing coral, specifically red or pink coral, began in Ancient Greece.

Me: Oh?

Informant: Yes. Do you know of the legend of Medusa?

Me: Yes, it is one of the most well known myths, and she is one of the most well known monstrous figures of Greek mythology.

Informant: Yes. Well, as you must know, Medusa was a gorgon – a woman cursed by Athena who had snakes for hair and who could turn anyone to stone when they made eye contact. Perseus, the hero, was sent on a quest to kill Medusa, which he managed through the use of the gifts given to him by the gods as well as his own ingenuity.

Me: Yes, using Medusa’s reflection on his shield to know where she was without running the risk of being turned to stone.

Informant: Exactly. Well, when Perseus killed Medusa, her body was thrown into the sea, and her blood, which was pouring out of her severed neck, as she was beheaded, crystallized, hardened, ah, fossilized and became the red coral. The Greeks would harvest the red coral from the sea and make it into amulets and protective jewelry to ward off both her evil as well as evil enchantments in general.

Me: So red coral, at least for the Greeks, was originally used for protection from evil?

Informant: Yes, it was. And that’s how red coral, at least, became used for jewelry.

 

Analysis:

This story, legend, shows how myths and legends can influence a culture to the point that even today when the original purpose for using a particular substance for anything, in this case red coral for jewelry, may be more or less forgotten, or at least not widely known, a practice is still in place. People still harvest red coral and make jewelry from it, and it is now simply viewed as the same as making jewelry from silver, gold, precious, and semi-precious gems and metals. The original purpose is forgotten, but the material is still in use.

 

For the original myth, see Beekman, E. M.. The Posion Tree: Selected Writings of Rumphius on the Natoural History of the Indies. University of Massachusetts Press , 1981. Print. og 254. There is a translation of the passage from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and further information.

Material

Folk Object: Thimbles

Thimbles were once given by young men or boys to young women or girls to display their affection and feelings for them without proposing serious commitment or marriage. Thimbles could be regarded as toys or novelties. Deborah was first given thimbles by her grandmother. Later on when she was stationed in Korea, she started to receive thimbles as gifts from people because she expressed to them that she didn’t have much room and was living in a small apartment. She now owns over 350 thimbles in her collection. Her oldest thimble is from medieval times; her second oldest dates back to 1720. Deborah takes great pride in her collection and claims that she is just a beginner in comparison to other thimble collectors. It appeared that she had a story for each thimble. She feels that the history of thimbles helps one feel what women’s role in society was for the last three centuries.

I was unfamiliar with the expansive history of thimbles. It is fascinating that this folk object was used for more than protecting one’s fingers while sewing. Jewelry when given to a woman by a man was believed to be a serious commitment; when men wanted to demonstrate interest in a woman, but not make such a commitment, thimbles became the perfect alternative because at the time every woman would have known how to sew and would have done so regularly.

Annotations

The idea of thimbles as a folk object and novelty is documented in The Story of the Thimble, along with a history of the thimble.

McConnel, Bridget. (1997). The Story of the Thimble. Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing

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