Tribal Jewelry

In the northern region of the West African Republic of Mali live one of the largest groups of nomadic herders on the continent of Africa. Through changes in rule and political boundaries, the Fulani, or Peul, tribe has thrived there since at least the 400 A.D., with some artifacts depicting the early life of the people dating back thousands of years to 6000 B.C. Fulani craftsmen have been hand-forging their classic seedpod-like jewelry for centuries. Originally crafted in gold, traditional pieces like the Gold-plated Fulani Tribal Earrings and Silver-plated Fulani Tribal Earrings are extremely labor-intensive, requiring two weeks of full-time work to complete. Rather than carry paper money, Fulani family wealth would be customarily worn by women in the form of jewelry like these earrings—to be carried with them at all times. Some of these items were handed down between women through many generations. The Fulani Tribal Cuff, or kwotene kange, could weigh up to 300 grams and was the ultimate sign of wealth. Based on a design that has been worn for centuries, the cuffs are made using old brass bracelets as raw material, melting them in a clay crucible and molding them into square rods that are heated and hammered over a bed of coals on the clay floor. With very narrow hammers worked against stakes set into the floor, the rods are shaped into a multi-edged blade, which is then twisted and plated with bright 24-karat gold. The city of Djenné, in Mali’s Niger Delta reason, was an important waypoint in trans-Saharan trade via Timbuktu during the 15th through 17th centuries. The gold that Fulani craftsmen used was one of many goods that passed through this once-thriving trade center. As the flow of goods slowed to a trickle once the Portuguese established trade ports along the coast, Fulani craftsmen adapted their skills to more easily acquired metals such as brass. Today the town of just under 40,000 people has an agrarian economy, but Fulani metalsmiths and jewelers still ply their trade in Djenné’s markets. Your purchases support Funali families in Mali In recent years, political instability in Mali and the occupation of the northern part of the country by Islamist militants has affected the Fulani. As it is now considered too dangerous for tourists to travel to Mali, artisans have very few avenues through which to sell their work. At National Geographic, we are proud to be one of these avenues, sharing classical pieces of exquisite craftsmanship with conscientious global consumers while contributing directly to the survival of Fulani families. Support traditional fulani craftsman by shoping our set of fulani tribal jewelery pieces, including Gold-plated Fulani Tribal Earrings, Silver-plated Fulani Tribal Earrings, and our Fulani Tribal Cuff, handcrafted in hammered brass and plated with 24-karat gold. To learn more about how your purchases support National Geographic’s non-profit mission, visit our about our mission page.