Afghani/Kuchi jewellery

Afghani/Kuchi jewellery

Article dated - July 2013


Afghani Pashtun nomads (Kuchis) have maintained their nomadic lifestyle for more than 3000 years.  The Kochis used to move annually from the Afghanistan Mountains to the valley of the Indus, across the old Silk Route that connects present-day Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, parts of Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, building an extensive network of barter along this route over the years. These long-distance migrations were stopped in the early 1960s when the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan were closed. Afghanistan has been at war almost constantly since 1979 and decades of devastation created the need for many to sell their personal jewellery and traditional clothing.

When I first saw the stunning pieces of jewelley, an overwhelming sadness came over me at the thought of the women who must have owned them at some point in the past. To have to part with these beautiful pieces could not have been happy. As I sat quietly amidst the tangled pile of jewellery, the merchant asked me why I looked so sad. I told him I was feeling sad because the women who owned them must have been heartbroken to have to sell them. He smiled at me and said – “It is not always like that. You know, when we go to the villages looking to buy old jewellery, these days we are not allowed inside some of the villages by the men. As soon as the women find out that we are visiting, they dig out all their old jewellery and come to us to sell them. And once we leave, they pester the husbands to buy them new jewellery!” That certainly got a smile out of me. In this world full of strife, here was yet another evidence of how men and women all over the world are just the same.

It is the custom for Kuchi women to surround their faces with profuse amounts of fringed jewellery, whether it is hanging from their temples or ears, on top of their heads, across their foreheads, attached to noses, in their hair, or even sewn directly onto their clothing, caps, and veils.

North Afghani jewellery has a distinctive style consisting of large silver or metal pieces, typically encrusted with carnelians or red glass beads set in raised bezels, and sometimes gold washed. Antique Afghani jewellery frequently includes deep-blue Lapis Lazuli, sparkling bits of pyrite fleck its deep blue colour, giving it the appearance of the night sky, a symbol of endless possibilities. Kuchi jewellery is flamboyant in spirit, alive with colour and over-the-top embellishments, drawing from the vibrant cultures that the nomads pass through in their wanderings. Older jewellery was made with silver and coin metal (silver-nickel alloy) while the new ones are made using gillette. All pieces are hand crafted without using dices or moulds.  Apart from the large size of the pieces imitating the armour worn by ancient women warriors, it is also crafted to sound beautiful. In their art and lore the women are always identified with life-giving forces, especially with water. Hence the abundant attachments of bells, coins, and noisy dangles that tinkle with every movement, imitating the sound of rain.

*Photograph Source: Unknown


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