Friday, November 16, 2007

Los Moros y Los Christianos

"Los Moros y Los Christianos" means the moors and the christians in Spanish. Those words have been part of my vocabulary ever since my husband and I scored a really neat carved wood chess set from his dad. The box the pieces came in was labeled "Los Moros y Los Christianos." As the name implies, the pieces are miniature christians and moors. When we were at a loss as to what to use for an email address many years ago, we decided to use the term los moros. It stuck and is the name we continue to go by.

During medieval times the moors were Muslims, Arab and Berber, who lived throughout North Africa and Spain which is sometimes called the Mahgreb. Today the term moro refers not only to people of Moorish ancestry throughout that region, but also to Muslims in general in many parts of the world. Moro is also the name of blood oranges which are grown and consumed in the region, and also exported. Blood oranges have red flesh.

It would not be inaccurate to say that the Moors introduced some aspects of "civilization" to Europe. Mattresses are a good example. The word mattress come from an Arabic word meaning cushion. During the Crusades, which is what inspired the chess set, Europeans adopted the custom of sleeping on cushions thrown on the floor. Initially they were stuffed with straw. I first learned that simply by reading the dictionary I use while playing SuperScrabble with Mr. Field Notes. Our games takes days to finish and when one person takes a long time to play a word, the other usually winds up reading something. The dictionary is always nearby.

The Alhambra in Spain was constructed as a Moorish palace. I think it is one of the most gorgeous examples of architectural design in the world. Someday I will see it in person, perhaps as part of a trip to Morocco to see the Atlas Mountains and search for the "Barbary Ape" which is actually a monkey with a severely stubby tail. The name ape stuck I guess because people didn't realize they are monkeys who no longer have tails. Some monkeys don't have opposable thumbs, but they're still monkeys. That sounds like a subject for another post on hands, los manos, but really I was planning on discussing hands.

Today I received my order of hands of fatima from my new etsy expat contact in Morocco. The hands are fabulous! I first learned about hands of fatima when I went to Tunisia a few years ago. Tunisia is the county in North Africa between Algeria and Libya. It's like Morocco but is smaller and has a town sharing the name of Luke Skywalker's home town, Tataooine. Star Wars was filmed in Tunisia as was The English Patient which are some of the reasons we chose it over Morocco. All over the Magreb you will see hands of fatima. They are on tiles, door knockers, painted above doorways, and outlined in nails on the brightly colored arched doors that are characteristic of the region.

Hands of fatima are also called "hamsa" which means 5 in Arabic and Hebrew. Fatima was the daughter of the prophet Muhammed who is the person Allah chose to receive the words of the Qu'ran, the holy book of Islam. The hand is a folk symbol used in both Muslim and Jewish cultures to ward off the "evil eye" of envy. It predates Islam and Judaism.

On a beach in the Tunisian seaside town of Mahdia, Mr Field Notes bought me a tiny hand of fatima stamped with the words "souvenir de Tunisie" on the back. It hung off of a bracelet made out of cheap metal and blue plastic stones. I wore it proudly for a few months until the clasp broke. I eventually discarded the bracelet but kept the hand and attached it to a clasp so that I could wear it again on any beaded bracelet or necklace as an removable pendant. The hands are a terrific symbol to promote the idea of peace in the Middle East. I don't know exactly what I will do with the little hamsas I now have from Rabat, but I am sure they will be gifts of some sort.

In the meantime, I dream of one day going back to Mahdia to visit the textile district. We really screwed up when we only allowed ourselves one night there. Stupid. We didn't have enough time to go into town to explore the textile district. Mahdia is known for weaving. Sleyed should have planned better :D


Psychgrad said...

Glad you were able to get ahold of some Hand of Fatimas. There was a lot of evil eye-type products in Turkey. I was able to pick up a bunch of great beads at the Grand Bizaar in Istanbul.

Gabriel said...

Hello ... I don't know write or speak very well in English, but I think that I can collaborate with this modest contribution: Moors and Christian, in Spanish is "Moros y Cristianos", without h, and I think you must know this: the "party of moors and christians" (La fiesta de Moros y Cristianos), a tradition at some places of the "Comunidad Valenciana" a region of Spain, for example Elda (my town), Alcoy, Villena .... If you want to know more of this, you can visit, for example, (spanish), (for more parties of Spain, spanish)or others webs. I think this parties are very interesting because they are a reflection of other times in our days.
Well....regards from Spain.