African talisman – general facts

african talismansThe talismans of the Akan people in Ghana are called bansuri. The Hausa and Yoruba people of Nigeria make tira, Afro Brazilians make patua, Bakongo peoples in the Congo make minkisi, and African Americans in the United States call their amulets mojo. The physical manifestation of prayers and talismans is ubiquitous and connects to other cultural traditions as well- doaa nameh in Iran, scapulars for Catholics, and mezuzahs in the Jewish tradition.

(Foto above) West African Gbo “fetish priest” in batakari jacket adorned with “gris-gris” amulets/talismans, in Hoodoo

Sealing the writings inside the beaded packets borrows from the African talisman tradition that inspired the project. Historically, are made from leather or cloth casings filled with sacred writings and other tokens of power. Closing the talismans makes their contents inaccessible. For the talismans that contain writings it is the presence of the word, not the ability to read it, that yields their power. The casing acts as a veil elevating the contents to an intangible and metaphysical realm. The power of secrecy as discussed in Mary Nooter’s “Secrecy: African Art that Conceals and Reveals” (1992), is a significant factor in the healing process for many. Craft processes such as beadwork and embroidery have been used as a means to unify, heal, and serve individuals and communities because they are functional, familiar and often considered soothing.

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