A quarterly specialized journal
The Message Of Folklore from Bahrain To The World

The Fish, The Five Fingers, and The Deer Horn: The Metaphysical Capabilities of Objects

Issue 61
The Fish, The Five Fingers, and The Deer Horn: The Metaphysical Capabilities of Objects

Zaynab Kunduz Gharbal, Tunisia

Objects deemed as symbolic in folklore often have a great impact on the belief systems found in Arab societies in general and the Tunisian culture in particular. The symbolism of objects has always occupied Tunisians' minds and influenced their ways of thinking. There are many symbols in the Tunisian culture that can enrich speech and lead it to have multiple interpretations. Among these symbols are the fish, the five fingers of the hand, and the deer horn. These elements represent the residents' inclination to find symbolic items to expel evil spirits (according to certain beliefs and sayings) and to express unity. 

Symbols are often found in the form of engraved dots, lines, and abstract geometric shapes, in a trend toward decorative abstraction. Engraving and carving styles and techniques vary according to the meanings and material elements that comprise the symbols. The triangle is a symbol that is used over and over again in different geometric patterns. You can see it in decorations inside homes and on the edges and main facades of buildings.

Builders and crafts people's symbolic decorations express abstract ideas that sometimes go beyond their aesthetic value or real-life connotations. Contrary to what their ornamental and artistic manifestation would suggest, humans and their interaction with their environment are reflected in all these details, similarly to primitive artistic expressions.

Man's desire to protect himself from unknown evil powers or draw good fortune led to the creation of superstitions related to good and bad fortune. The five fingers are believed to be one of the most common superstitions, and anyone who places them above the entrance to their house envisions their incredible ability to protect the residents of the house from envy, since the primary aim is for the symbol to capture the beholder's eye before he enters the house if he is envious.

Perhaps it is the bond that exists between our cultures and these symbols that allows them to endure. Frequent attempts to change and develop the symbols result in the symbols’ compatibility and continuing existence. The symbol is the result of psychological needs met in a physical and social setting through a process known as the ‘anthropological route’. In certain cultures, symbols such as a horseshoe or a black cat are used to bring good luck. In ours, we hang symbols like a horn to ward off ill fortune and the evil eye so that the envious do not endanger our health, livelihood or children.

Folkloric forms and symbols are influenced by the prevalent folk ideas in society as well as the surrounding conditions. Human conduct is symbolic in essence because only Man is capable of producing symbols and conducting symbolic behaviours, which is another aspect that sets humans apart from other creatures. However, the meaning of the symbol is determined by society, and the symbol loses significance and value when it is outside the range of that society or group.

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