At the moment ‘slavery’ and the role The Netherlands played in bringing people from Africa to the Americas and selling them there, is again in the spotlight and subject to research. there is a huge ‘slavery’ exhibition in the largest museum in The Netherlands to make people aware of what happened in those days. That gives my thought to find out whether the choker and the ‘slave’ bracelet originate from the slaves?
‘Is a choker the follow-up from a slave collar?’ Quite some time I wonder whether this is true or not? A choker is a close-fitting necklace around the neck. And without too much imagination you see in a slave collar the same item. Although the choker and a slave collar have a totally different purpose. When I started my search to find the answer I came upon some remarkable facts.
And after that, the same thought was about the slave bracelet. Enough reasons to find out whether some popular pieces of jewelry originates from the slaves and the slave jewelry.
I would like to start with a disclaimer. I use the term ‘slave jewelry’ in this blog to give the necklace and bracelets, that slaves were forced to wear to control them, a name.
Jewelry should make you beautiful and not a slave. Jewelry should be worn voluntarily, and not forced. Jewelry should earn you compliments and not orders.
The term ‘slave jewelry’ is chosen to make a connection (if there is any. That we will have to find out in this blog) between the necklace the slave got around his neck and the piece of jewelry, we called ‘choker’ today. And the connection between the band around the wrist of a slave to control him or her, and the jewel we now call ‘slave bracelet’.
And Pharoah Nefertiti and the lady of the Long Neck people in Northern Thailand wear their chokers voluntarily. In the Egypt of Pharaoh Nefertiti, a piece of neck jewelry like she is wearing was trendy or fashionable. And there is no trace of evidence that this type of jewelry has anything to do with slaves of slave jewelry (as there were in Egypt at the time).
The same goes for the lady of the Long Neck tribe. From her 6th or 7th birthday, she gets every time when it is possible an extra copper collar, in order to strengthen her neck. It is fashion there, for ages. They cannot get them of, because then their spine will collapse and she will die.
Let us start with finding out whether the choker has some connections with a slave collar or not?
A little history
Around 2500 BC Sumerian artists, living in Mesopotamia (the country between the Eufrat and the Tigris, now Iraq), designed and produced golden choker necklaces. So this type of jewelry was available in one of the oldest civilizations of this world. The popularity of these jewels passed over to Egypt, where they are made from gold, combined with lapis lazuli. It was said in Egypt that these necklaces brought special powers and protected you.
Then in the first century AD, these types of necklaces were still worn, according to the Talmud, where they were mentioned as a ladies’ accessory in the book Shabbat.
A symbol of protest.
There is a portrait of Anne Boleyn (1507-1536) with a beautiful piece of jewelry around her neck made of pearls and a letter ‘B’ (of Boleyn) pendant. It does not protect her from being beheaded. During the French Revolution in 1798, many people face the guillotine, and female French expatriates in England start to wear a red ribbon around their necks. As a protest against the guillotine sentences.
Much older than the slave collar.
In Ancient Times (around 2500 BC) the Pharaos and the common people in Egypt wear tight bands around their necks. Made of lapis lazuli, pearls, and gold or just a nice red ribbon from the market. People wear them to protect the most vulnerable part of their body, the neck, from evil, bad powers, and attacks. Just to make sure it works they hang little amulets or charms representing the gods they need the most on the choker.
There is slavery in Egypt at that time and on murals you see the slaves tied together with ropes. But no separate slave collar.
Prostitutes and royals.
In a painting of Manet, you see a prostitute wearing a ribbon around her neck and that seems a custom piece of jewelry for those ladies. But in the 19th century also royals like Queen Victoria and Princess Alexandra of Wales wear one. The latter because she wants to hide a little scar on her neck and this type of necklace does the trick.
The result is that this type of jewelry becomes fashionable. It’s not only a ribbon around your neck. But it is decorated with diamonds, pearls, golden beads, and a lot of gemstones.
Russian royalty wears a ‘dog-collar’.
In the late 19th century Tsarina Maria and Alexandra Fjodorovna have a so-called ‘dog-collar’ (collier du Chien) in their jewelry collection. For daily wear, these pieces of jewelry are made of fine silver or gold chains with highly decorated clasps. Under those chains are ribbons of silk or velvet. But for the parties, they wear chokers of diamonds, pearls, and gemstones, combined with a necklace that is attached under it. That necklace hangs down on the breast.
Again popular in the 1990s.
Actually, the choker never leaves the fashion world. In the 1950s they are made of lace and velvet. In the 1990s the ‘tattoo’ choker becomes popular, made of plastic, and has a ‘netted’ design. And also nowadays the choker stays in fashion and many celebrities love to wear it to their VIP parties.
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Tiffany and Co and a slave collar.
In September 2016 a scandal starts around Tiffany’s and a piece of jewelry exhibited in the Lest We Forget Slavery Museum in Philadelphia. The piece is a silver chain choker with a heart pendant. That particular piece of jewelry, according to the information on the tag is a design of Tiffanys and inspired upon a slave collar. The brass collar that a female slave wears when she works for the mistress of the master.
Tiffany denies the accusation and the museum removes the tag. It proves that the design of the choker is still a precarious subject.
Although the design of the choker looks like a slavery collar the choker or the design is more than 5000 years old. So the slave collar cannot be the origin of the choker. The popularity is steady for a long time although it drops between the 10th and the 16th century. And in this period slavery occurs. The choker stays popular also today. Just make sure that the choker sits perfectly and is not too tight. Otherwise, you look choked and that is not what you want. Then it looks too much like a slave collar.
The slave bracelet
I love bracelets, all kinds of bracelets. I think they can make you so beautiful. But I have problems with one type of bracelet. Not because of its shape or material, but because of its name. A bracelet should not be a slave bracelet. We have to invent some other name for that type of bracelet. There should not be slaves in our society, and they should not be held with a ‘slave’ bracelet. And nobody should have to wear a ‘slave’ bracelet again. Period! But what to do with those types of bracelets?
What is a ‘slave bracelet’?
In the 50s of the last century, the ‘slave bracelet’ became very popular in The Netherlands (and probably also in the UK and the USA). I owe a golden bracelet, with no decoration, just a smooth band with a hinge clasp. You have them in silver too. In ads for these slave bracelets, they use black women, and at that time it is not really a problem. That is: you do not hear any complaint from organizations or persons, that this is discrimination.
The bracelets have the shape of the chains that the slaves wear when they are transported or have to work outside, especially in Northern America and the Caribean.
But what is the meaning of these slave bracelets? Is it that we just like them in those times and we do not think bad about the name or the symbol? We just like that silver of golden simple accent on our wrists. And women’s liberation movements are not fanatic at the time?
When you dive into history, these kinds of bands or bracelets are only worn by the slaves from Western Africa. They are also used in India by belly dancers. Although the dancers wear that bracelet with chains over the top of a hand ending in a ring. The slave bracelets are also a part of the harem jewelry. An element of slavery occurs in every old culture that knew these bracelets. Nowadays they are popular in the SM scene and among the young people, who probably have no idea where the shape, the name, and the idea of their favorite bracelets come from.
Also in the Americas, they were acquainted with slave bracelets, although they were not called like that. When the North American native population migrated to the Caribbean and further on to South America they brought the custom of wearing gold or silver bangles. And they looked like the slave bracelets, as we are talking about in this blog.
Their custom was to give baby boys and girls silver or golden bangles. They were not supposed to take them off, and the children would wear them until they outgrew them and for health reasons would be removed. When the girls became adults, they started again with wearing these types of bangles. And they wore several of them just to show off how wealthy their husband was.
From the 16th century on these bracelets are made of iron or bronze without any clasp. It is a permanent band put around the wrist of a slave to prevent him or her from escaping. In India, these kinds of bracelets are made of silver or gold. And they are called ‘handflower’ or ‘Hathphool’. The hathphool is originally a piece of bridal jewelry with five rings connected with chains to a bangle bracelet. The rings represent female gods that protect the bride in difficult times. But later there are only three rings attached to the bangle to represent the bond of matrimony (or sometimes slavery).
African part of this history
Because of the name ‘slave bracelet’ you might think that the tradition or custom to wear this type of bangle started when the Europeans began the buy slaves in Africa. But history started ages before that time.
The women, that lived on the West coast of Africa traditionally wore copper bracelets that looked like horseshoes. They called them ‘manilla’s’ and they had little balls on each end.
The Portuguese merchants noticed that these manillas were very popular and they started producing them. The bangles became a type of currency. With the in Europe produced bracelets they bought the African people that were captured (in war or during a raid) by their enemies from the ‘owners’. Most of the time African warlords, or chiefs.
The West African chiefs that got the bracelets at the sale of the captured people (slaves) used them to pay for food, paid for burials, or bought a bride. In this way, the bracelets became a type of currency and were called ‘slave bracelets’.
When slavery was abolished and the British government prohibited slave money, they introduced a new currency. The old money (c.q. the slave bracelets) was melted to make copper artifacts.
The ex African slaves, once freed and able to make their own money bought replicas of the slave bracelets to give as a present to their loved ones. It was the reminder that once they were sold, but now they are free, and that freedom would last. The slave bracelet became the symbol of freedom.
The modern slave bracelet
And at this time you see them made from rubber, rope, leather. And all kinds of materials that are smooth and easy to wear. We call them friendship bracelets nowadays or we use them as a ‘good cause’ bracelet. Just like the rubber band, Lance Armstrong introduces to collect money for curing cancer( ‘live strong’).
Isn’t time to change the name for this type of bracelet to ‘liberation bracelet’ to honor all the slaves. People have no choice but to wear this bracelet to keep them from running away. To honor all the slaves who have to leave their homeland and family to cultivate crops. People that work in households, without getting paid, or getting their freedom.
The right bracelet for you
On the other hand, don’t blame the bracelet. It is still a beautiful piece of jewelry when you are free to choose what bracelet to wear today. And be beautiful with it. But choose the right bracelet, because like the ‘slave’ bracelet not all the types of bracelets are looking good on you. When –for instance- I wear a wide cuff, a statement bracelet, I attract all the eyes to my wrists, and when I stand also to my hips that are too large (according to me). So I should wear smaller bracelets, that make my arms look longer.
A choker looks great when you have a longer neck and you want it to look a bit shorter. A statement necklace makes a woman a lot of times more beautiful. Do you know when? Do you know that the length of your necklace is important? If it’s too short it looks like you are getting choked.
You have only 3 seconds to make a great first impression. Since people look at your face first, your necklace should be stunning and exactly made for you.
It is not so easy to know what necklace makes you look fabulous. Therefore FlorenceJewelshop published an e-book to help you out. All the questions stated above and much more, including a lot of tips can be found in that e-book. Ask for it! It is free of charge. Just let me know where to send it to.
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