x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

23. Gold tablar locket, c1900

To mark the nation's 40th anniversary, we feature 40 historic objects.

An example of an Islamic locket or tablar.
An example of an Islamic locket or tablar.
The origins of the tablar are almost certainly pre-Islamic, but the belief that a locket, sometimes containing a Quranic inscription or the 99 names of God, can offer protection to the wearer is still widespread in the region.
Sometimes called a ta'widh or taweez, in the UAE it is most commonly known as a tablar perhaps because some examples are cylindrical and resemble the south Asian drum. This particular example may be unique and its story makes it one of the most precious objects in this series.
Made of gold, the tablar was probably made around the turn of the 20th century, although it could be older. The Arabic calligraphy contains a surprise. Read normally, it says Malik Al Mulk, or one of the 99 names of God. Placed in front of a mirror it now states "La illah il Allah" or "There is no god but Allah".
The piece's lineage is also impeccable, connected to two of Abu Dhabi's most prominent families, Otaiba and Suwaidi, and passed down the female line from mother to daughter for at least half a century.
This part of the tablar's story is one of both survival and sorrow. In the latter instance, one transition was tragically short, given to an infant girl whose mother had died from complications after giving birth.Her granddaughter now wears it.
But as the historian Frauke Heard-Bey points out, the fact that the tablar has survived at all is remarkable. Almost all of the gold owned by local families was sold off when the economy collapsed in the 1930s as a result of the rapid decline of the pearling industry and the Great Recession, followed by the collapse of trade in the Second World War.
"It was held by a woman whose family was well off enough not only to own it at the time, but to be able to hold on to it through the very dark times, the late 1930s and then through the war, when many families must have sold their gold in order to feed the family," says Heard-Bey.
By the 1950s, she notes, most local women were wearing just silver on special occasions such as weddings. Gold returned only with the more prosperous 1970s and the oil boom. But as she points out: "That's really what you have gold and silver for, as an insurance against the bad times."