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Video transcript

(jazzy piano music) - [Beth] We're in the Museum of African Art here in Washington, DC and we're looking at jewelry from North Africa. - [Peri] These are ear pendants that would've been worn in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco by either Jewish or Berber women. - [Beth] Instead of being clamped on the ear or worn through the ear, like a pierced earring, these were suspended from the top of the head by the hook that we see at the top with that carnelian stone in it, and then draped on either side of the head. We're only seeing one element of what would've been an elaborate display of jewelry. - [Peri] These are so elaborately created and so heavy, they couldn't possibly be inserted into the ear. They just hang down as a woman's walking. - [Beth] Someone who is wealthy, would've worn these. - [Peri] This would've been someone of high status who was also married. This suggests her dowry, her wealth. The Berber and Jewish populations controlled the trade of silver and the silver caravans throughout North Africa. Silver was their main currency, but rather than fashioning it into blocks, smiths created these beautiful ornaments that women wore, so in a sense, she's wearing wealth and showing her status through this ornament. - [Beth] We see intricate filigree work. We see decorative enamel work and in the center we see a floral pattern with some blue cloisonne or stone. - [Peri] Down at the bottom are conical bell shapes that made music as she walked. - [Beth] There were between 200 and 300,000 Jewish women in Morocco. If this was in fact made for a Jewish woman, it was certainly made by a Jewish artisan, but today there were only about two or 3000 Jews in Morocco. - [Peri] We do still have Jewish smith shops in the major cities like Fez in Morocco, but today most women no longer wear pieces made with silver, amber and carnelian. In fact, gold is more popular and fashionable. Many of these older pieces worn by their mothers or their grandmothers are sold, either to tourists or to museums and they end up in collections like the one. These objects communicated a whole host of things about the woman who wore them and she didn't wear them in isolation. So if they were worn by a Jewish woman it would've gone along with something like this. - [Beth] This is an amazing head dress formed of so many different types of materials. We've got silver, we've got stone, we've got enamel. We've got delicate filigree work. We've got long braided fibers hanging down. - [Peri] We even have cattle or goat hair fringing at the top of that silver headband. - [Beth] This triangular shape at the top elongated a woman's forehead. It must have been fabulously beautiful to wear. - [Peri] And the way in which this dyed black fiber is braided tricks went into thinking that that is actually her hair, but in fact, her hair is intended to be concealed as a married Jewish woman. - [Beth] And look at that dense filigree work in that band that would've been across her forehead and these discs that danged like the conical shape in the ear pendants so we can also imagine this jingling as the woman walked. It's wonderful to see these pieces here in the Museum of African Art, because so often when we think about African art, we think about the art of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead of the art of the entire continent, which would also include Algeria and Morocco and Egypt. - [Peri] In addition we tend to see wooden objects. So most collections are comprised of objects from West and Central Africa. And these are silver objects. They're personal objects. While they were crafted by a male smith, they would've been worn by a Northern African woman as part of her ensemble of part of her body art. - [Beth] There's so much fine detail and such fine workmanship that there's a real showing off of the skill of the artisan who made these. (jazzy piano music)