Making Fulani tribe earrings

Hi Everyone

Can any of you tell me where to find instructions or how to make
Fualini Tribe - Mali earrings? They’re the ones that twist. Some say
they are 2 pieces folded & soldered then twisted, other sources say
thatthey are forged from a single bar - either way, I’d like to try
making them, but sure would like to get my hands on some
instructions before I waste alot of metal.


1 Like

Metalsmith magazine had a good article on this several years ago,
and they are forged from a solid bar, a lump into the cross-like
cross section.


I’ve heard it described both ways too, though I tend to believe the
single bar idea more. The one’s I’m thinking of are smaller and
twist more than your photo, but the same basic idea.

It occurs to me that you could probably produce these shapes more
easily as a fold form, or likely two intertwined fold forms. Play
with some small pieces of cheap metal, and you could work out the
sequence… Simply forging from a solid piece is a LOT of forging.
And soldering together two pieces and just twisting would give you a
twisted straight piece if you don’t do something that automatically
gives you that curve too. Simply curving a straight twist will
distort it badly. Thus the idea of playing with a fold form. You
might have to come up with a new variation. That would be cool…
I’m kind of envisioning folding a straight piece of metal, tapered in
width, and forging sections of the fold alternating with sections of
the edge, in a pattern lengthening each section slightly
so the folded shape waves back and forth. Unfolded, and twisted to
match that wave, this would generate the overall curve. I think.
Haven’t tried it. Or ask Charles. I’ll bet he’s done it already…



The earrings shown in the photograph appear to look like they are +
in cross section. In “Metalwork & Enamelling” by Herbert Maryon
(Dover Books, copyright 1971, 5th rev ed.) page 140 show two twisted
wires (numbers 30 and 31) which show the same cross section. In the
comments on page 137 for items 30 and 31 Maryon states that that
strips are soldered together to make the + cross section. He goes on
to state that use of this pattern was familiar to goldsmiths of
Cyprus and Ireland 3,000 years past and was used for earrings and
torcs and that some were constructed without the use of solder. Sans
solder, the metal was forged into a rectangular bar which was then
cut nearly halfway through with a chisel from opposite sides, then
hammered into shape.

Granted, Maryon is speaking of wire, yet the form is similar in that
they are both + cross section. Depending on how much work you want to
do, go with forming each wing then solder them, or cut and hammer
from an ingot. You might want to model them in clay or wax first for
form and an estimate of the metal needed.

Mike DeBurgh, GJG
Henderson, NV

I haven’t made earrings this big, but I do make this form. I call
the forms X-Oids, because they are an X in cross-section. An Orchid
friend from Belgium showed me photos of earrings she made when taught
by Africans (sorry-not sure if they were Fulani, or not) and they
DID, indeed teach her their method of forging it out from one solid
bar. They start by chiseling into the bar, and then, as the “wings”
are forged, they naturally twist, since the edges get the most

I have been fascinated by the way this form occurs throughout world
history. There are bronze and iron Celtic torcs and bracelets, and
Greek and Roman examples in gold, as well as the African versions.
Some cultures make them by attaching sheet to rod, others forge it.

30 years ago, I was taught by Fred Fenster to make this form by
cutting slit half way into two sheets so that they slot together.
Then I soldered and twisted. This works, but sawing the slit for a
16" long neckpiece is not easy, and soldering is tricky, too.

These days, I bend two pieces at right angles, and solder them
together, and then twist. Interestingly, Fred tells me that he has
changed to this method, too! I teach workshops on making this form,
titled, X-Oids: Elegantly Twisted Spirals. I find this form has many
possibilities, and I encourage the workshop participants to
experiment. I have fun with the idea that we are working with a
historical form, in a contemporary way. There are three examples on
my website:

I hope this is helpful.
Have fun!

Cynthia Eid

Having spent three years in West Africa, teaching English and
studying jewelry techniques as a Peace Corps Volunteer from '72-'75,
I witnessed first hand the making of the Fulani earrings in Mopti,
Mali. I chose to purchase a pair with all of the money I had left,
giving up a chance to travel to Timbuktu. I watched for three days
while my earrings were made.

While this type of earring has indeed appeared in various cultures
through history (Celtic Ireland, Ethiopia), the Fulani, who are not
constrained by time…make them from a long ingot scored lengthwise
with a chisel. The smith then proceeds to forge the four quadrants of
the bar with gradually larger and larger forging hammers on an anvil.
There is frequent annealing and gradual twisting of the metal,
depending on the size. If a woman decides to add to her wealth as
time passes, she brings them to the smith who forges additional metal
onto the twisted flanges. In the case of an alloy which is low in
gold content, the color is enriched using the traditional saltpeter
method. Of course, the wealthier the woman, the higher the gold
content. There is no soldering, except to repair thin or split spots
if the hammering goes too far.

I imagine that similar earrings could be created more efficiently
with casting of soldering pre-formed flanges, but this is not the
traditional way of the Fulani “forgerons”.

Elizabeth McDevitt
Peace Corps Senegal, 1972-1975

Thank you all for your input - I’m going to try everything you’ve
suggested… Since I’m a visual learner, I just ordered a used copy of
"Metalwork & Enameling"; & I sent Metalsmith an email to find out
which issue the article was in & if I can back order; Peter, I think
I understand your instructions - I’m going to practice with some
fairly thin gauge (24-26 ga) copper.

I’m going to make them fairly small - don’t want my earlobes hanging
down to my shoulders I’ll let you know what I figure out. I feel
fortunate to be a part of this forum - & appreciate that there may
be many ways to solve a problem - and to be able to get such informed
responses is incredible…Again, thank you all


I made similar earrings and necklace/bracelets components on a much
smaller scale. I tried so many ways and made so many mistakes. The
easiest way for me was to use copper foil, glue two v shaped pieces
together, twist, cut the shape, add connections for ear wires, and
then spray with electro conductive lacquer and plate multiple times.
Then I had a mold made and cast the pieces. It might no be the "real"
way they do, however, the resulting replica is quite nice. I’ll send
you a picture off-line if you are interested, just email me.

Good Luck
Lynn Vernon