This silver necklace with a crescent-shaped pendant inset with an embossed gold plaque is almost certainly a rare example of gold and silver jewellery from the Swahili coast. The crescent form suggests obvious Islamic influence (the Coast had close trade and migration ties with the Middle East and most particularly with Oman). And the use of embossed gold plaques is highly typical of silverwork from the area.
Certainly jewellery inset with embossed gold plaques was worn by Swahili women among the Swahili Coast – Lamu, Pate and probably Zanzibar islands.
The pendant is further decorated with applied silver wire work, 18 pendant chains with spherical terminals, and two pyramidal finials.
The double chain itself is of silver and includes a silver band designed to rest on the back of the neck.
Inset gold plaques decorated with this motifs seems to be characteristic of Zanzibar work. Such panels can be seen on the ivory hilts of Omani-influenced sword that were manufactured in Zanzibar in the eighteenth century. Examples of these swords are illustrated in Hales (2013, pp. 237-139).
Silver such as the item here was made by silversmiths on Pate Island, just north of Lamu Island, on the coast of Kenya and more broadly on what is known as the Swahili coast.
A crescent shaped pendant on a chain which is described as a ‘typical example of Swahili jewellery’ is illustrated in de Vere Allen (1971, p. 21).
The people of the Swahili coast have been engaged with lively international trade since at least the 15th century. Trade took place with the African interior and with merchants from the middle east and India, particularly Gujarat.
The pendant and chain here is in a fine, stable and wearable condition.
Abungu, G. & L., Lamu: Kenya’s Enchanted Island, Rizzoli, 2009.
Fisher, A., Africa Adorned, Collins Harvill, 1987.
Meier, P. & A. Pupura (eds.), World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean, Krannert Art Museum/Kinkead Pavilion, 2017.
de Vere Allen, J., Lamu, Kenya Museum Society, 1971.