Large Islamic Amulet Container (Tcherot or Kitab) with Rare Neo-Tifinagh Inscription
Tuareg people, southern Morocco
length: 17 cm; height: 16 cm, weight: 174g
Amulet boxes such as these were worn by Islamic Tuareg men and women in the northern Sahara. Inside Koranic verses and other protective amulets were stored. The amulet does not open; the contents are sealed within.
This piece comprises a hammered tiered silver front plate overlaid with brass and copper strips, with an iron backing plate. The tiers of the silver front plate are variously engraved with zigzags, triangles and the like, motifs that are suggestive of sand dunes and water. The central, bud-like finial is of silver and two lower finials are encased in copper.
tcherot is worn from the neck suspended from a cord threaded through a metal loop that runs the length of the top of the piece.
Amulets are worn because the Tuareg inhabit a world that co-exists with a powerful spirit wold. The
Kel Esuf (‘people of the void’) are active after dark. Islamic Jinns (spirits) live in the mountains and in desolated areas. The evil eye must also be warded off. Tuareg men (and not women) wear the tagulmust of face-veil over their noses and mouth to prevent entry by evil spirits.
This example is rare in that it has an inscription in Neo-Tifinagh (sometimes written as Tifinar), a language used by the Tuareg of southern Morocco and which is based on ancient Berber. The inscription is along the top part of the silver front. It reads from left to right and has the approximate letter equivalents of ‘wnksdlmytrgyklyj’. Only since the 1970s have there been efforts to add vowels to tifinagh.
Examples of Tcherots are illustrated in: Splendeurs du Maroc, Musee Royal de l’Afrique Central, Belgium, 1998; Hoek, C. et al, Ethnic Jewellery from Africa, Asia and Pacific Islands, The Pepin Press, 2004, p. 34; and in Seligman T. and K. Loughran (eds), Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World, Cantor Arts Center/UCLA Fowler Museum, 2006.
Inventory no.: 566
Detail of Neo-Tifinagh inscription