Originally published 10.19.15 on gemgossip.com
The Figa--rich in history and quite elusive to some. What does it mean? And where did the talisman originate? I was mesmerized by a collection which has been in the making for years--that of Ariana Boussard-Reifel, owner of Marteau (formerly Mode Marteau) who has a penchant for vintage and antique anything, but especially jewelry. I had to know more about her collection and asked for her expertise on the topic of the Figa, so she has put together a wonderful blog post for us. Be sure to check out her newly launched website, Marteau.
"I am a collector first and I choose my conquest second. The act of collecting, more than the act of possessing is what enchants me. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt, the seeking and the vanquishing. Unlike some whose collections are focused, I devour jewelry that spans time and space. In this way all of history is exposed by the process of searching. Right now, I’m steadily pillaging the world’s supply of antique Mano Figas.
The first one I saw immediately captivated me. It reminded me of Rodin sculptures and Gabriella Kiss earrings. In appearance, it was both beautiful and macabre, clearly showing the labor of its maker in the finely articulated fingers. But it is the story and symbolism that made me a devout collector.
The gesture of the thumb protruded between the pointer finger and middle finger has a variety of different meanings dating back nearly 8,000 years. In Central Asia where the term for it is rosehip, it is an obscene gesture not unlike the middle finger. It means sex in Japan, the number 5 to the Maasai, the letter ‘T’ in American Sign Language, and ‘got your nose’ to every 4-year-old I’ve ever encountered.
But the specific symbolism that gave rise to the charm that we refer to as a Mano Figa originates in Etruscan Italy. Mano means hand and Figa means fig, a slang term for female genitalia. The gesture is undeniably a reference to heterosexual sex. In ancient times it was worn as an incantation to The Goddess, a call for fertility, virility and good times (the fig also has close ties to Bacchus). They were traditionally made of silver or blood coral, sacred elements for Luna, the goddess of the moon and Venus, the goddess of the sea, respectively.
Through time and colonization, the symbol crossed the oceans with Christianity, and beginning in the early 17th century figas began to be produced in South America. Now they are commonly worn throughout Brazil and Peru as a symbol of protection against the evil eye. The obscenity of the gesture is said to distract Satan from his conquest for your soul. Because of the close ties to femininity and motherhood it is traditional in Brazil to tie a tiny black figa to a child’s wrist to ward off bad luck.
For all the richness and history of the mano figa, I can’t help but love them large and small, fine and primitive. Because the gesture carries such breadth of meaning it’s easy to imbue it with the significance you choose. I wear figas daily to feel a connection to my femininity, to represent my love of antiquity, and simply because they are always a good conversation starter."
I inherited a wooden manufiga from a great aunt and was wondering if you had any interest in it.
It appears to be wooden with a metal clasp. There is also a tiny metal bangle on its wrist that I have never seen on other manufigas.
It is quite possibly from Brazil or Peru as my great aunt lived in the region.
Hello, I was given one as a gift a long time ago. The person that face it to me is a huge collector. Although when it was given to me, he told me a far different meaning. I’d be curious for you to see it. It feels to be carved from some sort of bone(which is what I was told upon receiving it). The opposite end of the hand is a kind of skull face carved.
I recently purchased a large antique silver penca de Balangdan at an estate auction, it is larger than two hands if anyone is interested?
I have an exquisite pure opal figa pendant from brazil. An old boyfriend bought it for me there more than 40 years ago. It is laced in 18K gold. I can’t seem to find anything like it anywhere. I am very curious about the value of this piece.
I would like to see the different pieces people have
I have one that i never take off i use it to protect me from the evil eye but the figa has a chip now and i dont know what that means if you or anyone knows what it means please let me know thanks
I have a Georgian Period mano figa pendant in Jet, the placement of the fingers is unusual. The middle finger and thumb are touching at the tips while the others are straight.
It looks like some sort of Buddhist expression known as akash mudra.
I have never seen one quite like it.
I have a wooden figa with a silver cap by which it is attached to a necklace along with 10 sterling silver fruits. Please advise if you have any information on it.
I have a wooden Sterling silver one if you’re interested.
I found a mano figa pendant in my late aunt’s jewelry. She was American and had no Brazilian connection so I have no idea why she’d have such a pendant.
Thank you for sharing this interesting information. I grew up in Ukraine and Russia where we often made this gesture with our hand to anyone whom we wanted to express ‘you are getting nothing from me!’ Just wanted to add to your list of meanings.
The carnelian FIGA is amazing and mysterious!
The carnelian FIGA is amazing and mysterious!
I was interested in knowing what inspired such a strange thing to wear. Now that I know the meaning, I’m starting to love them too!
I also love them.
I only just saw my first one this morning when I was clearing out my mother’s bedroom and found one in a drawer. It was bought over 30 years ago in Brazil by my late father and was still in the packaging which stated that it was even more powerful when given as a gift. So I gave it to my son as a present from his beloved grandfather :)
I want descriptions , prices on Figa fists. I’m a serious collector. Thanx, Elon
Three are dark green jade, and the other two may be ivory
I love them too! My mother was Brazilian, so I have seen them all my life. Please let me know where I can buy them! I promise not to interfere with your collection!