Bedu finger rings
In the Middle East, jewellery has always been seen as an attractive personal possession, a symbol of status and as a means of financial investment.
Jewellery serves a variety of functions but is commonly used to adorn many parts of the body.
Bedu women, in Oman, wear decorative thumb and finger rings called khatām. Each would have a special name according to which finger they are worn on. These names are used in the towns (Carter 1982: 27)
Thumb: jabiyrah. 1st finger: shawāhid, 2nd finger: mahar, 3rd finger: kanābir or khātim, 4th finger: khanāfir.
Rings are generally decorated with chased designs and granulation. Some rings are embellished with a gold wash and the little-finger ring is occasionally decorated with a semi-precious stone or a coin, such as an Indian rupee illustrated here.
Although both silver and gold is used in the Arab world, the jewellery amongst the Bedu is predominantly silver. It is also used with other materials such as coral, lapis lazuli and gold. Oman is famous for its silversmiths and most are based in centres around Nizwa. Historical trade connections with India and other parts of Asia is strong.
It is unclear why the Bedu prefer silver to gold. Silversmiths continue to rely on old jewellery being melted down and re-used and also on imported silver such as the Maria Theresa dollar and Chinese ingots (Mack 1988: 61). Gold was also used sparingly to decorate the silver. Perhaps silver represents tradition and identity whereas gold is associated with the West.
Perhaps there is a cultural reason as to why silver is a preferred metal. Silver not only relates more to rural communities and nomadic life but it is also believed to have protective qualities.
In other parts of the world, silver jewellery, worn by the Berber women of North Africa, have a talismanic function and are decorated with sun and moon signs. Both the Berber woman’s tattoos and her jewellery act as protective devices to ensure her well-being (Groning 1997: 121).