My Balangandan

I have what I thought was a coppersmith’s sampler.  It has what looks like pieces of fruit and other items hanging from a holder.  The longer fruit, like the pineapple, is over 5 inches long and the round fruit, like the pomegranate and orange, are 4 inches in diameter. 

Each piece features different designs, showcasing a variety of a coppersmith’s abilities.  I imagined him traveling the countryside, sampler in hand, displaying his handiwork and, hopefully, getting a job here and there.

I displayed this sampler in a large antique copper bowl…a bowl of fruit that didn’t go bad or attract fruit flies.  It certainly was unique. This is what it looked like:


As those faithful readers of this blog know, I do a considerable amount of research on flatware designs.  I was doing just this, searching “Brazilian silver” when an image caught my eye.  It looked like a smaller version of my coppersmith’s sampler.

When I took a closer look at that image, I was shocked.  It was very similar to my copper fruit and it was called a “pence de balangandan”.  It was a brooch and the design inspiration was traced back to the African slave trade in Brazil in the 17th and 18th century.  My bowl of fruit was really a bowl of balangandan!

Slaves wore these balangandan as good luck charms or amulets. They are also worn prominantly during Carnival. The following image is of Jean-Baptiste Debret’s 1827 painting of a woman street vendor with balangandan hanging from her waist.

1827 Jean-Baptiste Debret "Negra Vendendo Caju"

1827 Jean-Baptiste Debret “Negra Vendendo Caju”

My balangandan were large…they seemed to be larger than those depicted in the painting above.  When spread out, they easily reached 18 inches or more.

My Balangandan Spread Out

My Balangandan Spread Out

I never really looked that closely at the handle.  It had the birds, or parrots, on either side which was traditional to these balangandan.  They were symbolic of Africa on one side and Brazil on the other. The handle was formed in the shape of a ship.

Close-up of Handle

Close-up of Handle

I learned that these larger balangandan were sometimes hung in kitchens or on doors as good luck charms and to ward off evil spirits.

I enjoyed looking at my “fruit” and had it prominantly displayed over the years.  Little did I know that its history was tied to the slave trade in Bolivia. But, as fate would have it, I learned the truth…all because of flatware!

This balangandan is now for sale at my Etsy shop:



This entry was posted in African slave, amulet, balangandan, Brazilian slavery, carnival, good luck charm, pence de balangandan and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to My Balangandan

  1. KerryCan says:

    How amazing! I think this is why I love “old stuff” so much–we learn so much from it, beyond being able to just enjoy having it around. And I sure hope you sell it for that price! 😉

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