Rare Egyptian Fish ‘Samaka’ Talisman
This tremendous talisman, called a Samaka (from the Arabic for fish) is composed of 7 hollow fish with repousse detailing, filigree crescents and a variety of faux coin drops. It appears to be composed of gilded copper, and the majority of the “coins” are Ottoman in style, with the tugra of the Sultan on one side, though the main, central coin is a curious piece, reading MEDALLION FOR EGYPTIAN LADIES 1913.
The fish have eyes of metal what was at one time painted blue, to ward off evil, though much of the paint is now worn. These hollow form fish are unusual and originate from an earlier construction that was designed to open and function as a hirz or higab, a box pendant used for holding protective scripts. The late Susan Weeks describes this in her 1983 article “Fish of Silver, Fish of Gold,” saying this style was popular in both Upper and Lower Egypt, and the fish themselves represent a variety of Tilapia found in the Nile that has been revered since antiquity, appearing in ancient carvings and even found mummified.
Fish, and coins of course, symbolize prosperity, abundance, fertility and luck in many cultures, and similar pendants are also found in Tunisia. This piece was originally a statement necklace, but could also be used as a household talisman, and it has a pleasant sound when in motion. There are a few dark spots in the gilding, the paint of the eyes is worn and there is one small element missing from one of the crescents, but this rare piece is in otherwise excellent condition.
The older version of this necklace where the fish opens as a hirz is also featured in Azza Fahmy’s Enchanted Jewelry of Egypt: The Traditional Art and Craft, 2007.
Many thanks to Sigrid van Roode for her assistance researching this piece. She offers wonderful classes on ethnic jewelry at her website: bedouinsilver.com
Size: 6″ x 7.25″ / 15cm x 18.5cm Largest Fish Width: 4.75″ / 12cm
Weight: approximately 107 grams