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Elhadji Mohamed Koumama

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Elhadji Mohamed Koumama and Ismael Elhadj Mohamed represent the Tuareg Jewelry cooperative. With over fifty silversmiths, together they continue a tradition of craftsmanship that’s spans over twenty give generations.

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Employing dozens of silversmiths, the cooperative supports Elhadji Mohamed’s large extended family, including eleven siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and which benefits over two hundred people across the community. The Koumama family work in several small groups of between two and fifteen men, with boys beginning their apprenticeship at age seven.

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Elhadji comes from more than twenty-five generations of Tuareg silversmiths based in Niger. Learning silversmithing from his father the family are famous for their high quality hand crafted jewelry. Nomadic Tuaregs typically own few material possessions, but cherish beauty, making jewelry an important and portable art form in their culture.

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In the Tuareg tradition, women just wear silver. Most pieces are geometric in shape and bare a special significance; crosses given from fathers to sons, triangular pieces given from mothers to daughters, diamond shaped pendants called “Igourou” given by men to their brides, and amulets, square pendants encasing a selection from the Koran, worn by all ages to protect against evil spirits

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The pieces are made by the lost wax method, then engraved and hammered, and adorned with stones. All jewelry is handmade with pure silver, ebony wood and semi precious stones including black onyx, agate and blue lapis. Using only simple hand tools, Elhadji’s toolkit comprises of an anvil, screw drive, file, hammer, a below made from goat skin, and embers for the fire. The screwdriver is the only tool used to make the detailed engravings and etchings.

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Participating in the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market since 2009, last year Elhadji used profits from the Market to buy enough food to feed 500 people for three months in neighboring villages. “ Every year I come back and feed these people, and it makes me feel good.”

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Website: http://tuaregjewelry.com

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