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Silver of the Possessed : Jewellery in the Egyptian zar - Sigrid M van Roode

Silver of the Possessed

Jewellery in the Egyptian zar

By: Sigrid M van Roode

Paperback | 27 June 2024

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In the 19th century an African possession cult called zār arrived in Egypt and became hugely popular. Jewelry formed an integral part of this cult, and silver pendants with images of spirits started to appear in the early 20th century. And there is more: zār also used beaded jewelry as well as a wide range of other jewels.

Currently, jewelry items with spirit images are sought-after collectors' items, present in collections of both private collectors and museums. These collections also hold a wide variety of other pieces called 'zār jewelry', and many jewelry pieces labeled 'zār' are available online. But what is 'zār jewelry', exactly?

With collectors, curators, historians and ethnographers in mind, Silver of the Possessed places jewelry of the Egyptian zār in its cultural and historical context. A catalogue of previously unpublished jewelry in private collections illustrates the changes in this jewelry over the course of nearly a century, while the book itself addresses Egyptian zār jewelry from multiple angles.

First, it analyses how our current understanding of this jewelry has evolved through collecting and publishing. Examining its cultural background in African possession cults results in a new insight of the many roles jewelry played in zār, observing jewelry as a financial asset allows us to grasp its implications for household economy dynamics, while looking at jewelry in a diachronic perspective may even reveal changes in the ritual itself. Finally, this study explores its potential as an actual historic source: these jewelry items shed light on the world view of their wearers, and as such form an unexpected additional source for late 19th and early 20th century Egypt.

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