West African goldsmiths have long been known for their gold ornaments and jewelry. Although silver is the preferred metal of peoples in East Africa, gold ornaments are also common and eagerly sought by those who can afford them. This hollow armlet with amulet case was made by hammering sheets of gold into tubular shapes and applying tiny spheres and twisted wire on the surface in intricate patterns. The amulet was meant to contain verses from the Koran which were specially prepared and tightly wrapped by a specialist. In Somalia such amulets are worn close to the skin by both men and women who wish to promote health and well-being. On ceremonial occasions women wear gold jewelry with amulets, not only for protection but also as a symbol of their status.
Most of the silver- and goldwork on the Somalian coast is done by a guild of silversmiths and goldsmiths, who are considered an artisan caste. Although little has been published on the history of this tradition, it is believed that Somali jewelers, like the wood carvers, were inspired by Arabian and Indian prototypes.
Hollow armlet with cylindrical amulet case, made of gold sheets hammered into tubular shapes, adorned with tiny gold spheres and twisted wire arranged in intricate patterns.
Ambassador and Mrs. John Loughran, collected in Xamar Weyn market, Mogadishu, Somalia, 1975 to 1976
African Mosaic: Selections from the Permanent Collection, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 19, 2013-ongoing (installed December 1, 2015)
Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, May 9- August 26, 2007; Fowler Museum at University of California, Los Angeles, October 14, 2007-February 17, 2008
Kreamer, Christine, Mary Nooter Roberts, Elizabeth Harney and Allyson Purpura. 2007. Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution; Milan: 5 Continents Editions, p. 60, no. 4.7.
National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 158, no. 114.