Khamsa – The Hand in North African Jewelry
The khamsa, or hand, is a widely used symbol in North African jewelry. In design it can take the form of a realistic human hand with four fingers and a thumb, or it can take a stylized form which is more representational. Either way, the khamsa is a powerful symbol and talisman when used for personal adornment.
In North Africa the khamsa embodies many different meanings. It can be traced back to the times of the Romans and Phoenicians where originally it meant “Baraka” or a blessing. In Islamic beliefs it is the Hand of Fatima, and can represent the five fundamental principles of Islam. In Arabic it means the number five. It is believed to provide protection against the evil eye. In Judaism the khamsa, or hamesh, is the Hand of Miriam, and can represent the five books of the Torah. It invokes the name of God for protection and is sometimes seen as the hand of God. All of these meanings contribute to the talismanic properties of the khamsa.
Khamsa amulets come in many forms and styles. Most are stylized shapes that only vaguely resemble the shape of a hand. Fingers and thumbs meld together in a simple, clean line. The shapes become iconic. Some styles are specific to a region. The Aures-style khamsa has three feather-like fingers instead of five and looks nothing like a human hand. One unusual style is the foulet khamsa, or five bean khamsa, which does not resemble a hand at all but has five bumps or “beans”. Another is the louha, or board style. This usually has five small protuberances at the bottom to represent fingers.
Whatever the shape or style or meaning, the khamsa amulets of North Africa remain a powerful symbol. They are easy to recognize and their beauty is hard to resist. There is something magical about them. They transcend time and cultures and speak directly to something in the human spirit. This is their power.
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