Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Handflower or Slave Bracelet?

What's the Difference?

The terms "handflower" and "slave bracelet" are often used interchangeably, although some people know only one or the other. Some people don't know what to call them, and some think of different things when they hear these terms. Other terms are used as well, such as "ring bracelet", "maille bracelet", and "panja" or "hath panja". Although these can all refer to the same thing, I've observed some general differences through Google searches.

Slave Bracelet 1:
Usually a slave bracelet is a combination of a bracelet and ring (therefore also called a "ring bracelet"), attached with one piece of chain or string of beads, or some type of charm or pendant-like thing in the center which lays on the back of the hand. It's called a "slave bracelet" because the ring is "slave" to the bracelet. Usually the bracelet and ring are solid metal pieces such as a cuff bracelet and adjustable finger ring. It's sometimes also called a handflower, because it is worn on the back of the hand. These are from Medieval styles.

Pewter Butterfly Slave Bracelet

Slave Bracelet 2:
Sometimes an item named "slave bracelet" is a single cuff bracelet by itself, which used to be worn by slaves, mostly in Egypt or West Africa. Also it could refer to a bracelet made of coins and worn by Nigerian slavers. This is not related to the ring bracelet in any modern way, except maybe in the relationship between the Nigerian slavers and the gypsy/ belly dancer coin handflower.

African Slave Bracelet

Men's Slave Bracelet

also called a slave bracelet or ring bracelet, but usually designed in a triangular shape made of chainmaille, beads, chains, or knitted or crocheted string. Usually has a chain or string around the finger instead of a solid or adjustable ring. These are also based on Medieval styles, although not always approved by the SCA.

Chainmaille Handflower Bead & Chain Handflower Bead-maille handflower

Maille bracelet:
although handflowers are often made of chainmaille, they can also be made of other things such as chains or bead-work, so not all of them can really be called maille. Also, other types of bracelets can be made of chainmaille. The term could more accurately be used for a regular wrist-only bracelet made of chainmaille.

Chainmaille Bracelet

Panja/ Hath Panja:
The Asian and Indian version of the handflower is like a slave bracelet with the charms and solid rings, but usually with 3 or 5 rings instead of 1. Often used as bridal jewelry. The name is Hindi; I think "hath" means "hand" and "panja" means "five".

Panja Bridal Hath Panja Panja

Other "slave bracelet" use: I want to keep this blog rated G to PG, so I won't be too specific, but some people think of a certain adult practice when they hear of "slave bracelets". I don't know a whole lot about that, but from what I do understand, it doesn't use handflowers so much as handcuffs. Perhaps the relation between the handflower/slave bracelet and the cuff-style slave bracelet (although it's only the name) causes the confusion between the handflower and the handcuffs. Some people who use that practice might wear handflowers as symbols of ownership, but I believe that is not what they were originally designed for and is not the meaning of the bracelets themselves. Most people who make or wear handflowers do not mean it that way.

Harem Bracelet: This name seems to refer to belly dancing, which uses handflowers made with coins and bells. I made two of these once (one for the hand and one for the foot) for someone at my church who does belly dancing for fun and exercise. I haven't found a specific connection between harem bracelets and actual harems, unless people do belly dancing in harems, which I think is it. I think the reason belly dancers wear this style is that gypsies would wear bracelets made of coins as a way to carry money, similar to the Nigerian slavers, and also because of the flashy and jingly effects.

Foot Slave Bracelet
(Harem Bracelet)


  1. Wow! I love learning history of things and found this very interesting and informative!

  2. This was great. I didn't realize there were so many different kinds of "slave bracelets" and what all they were used for or meant. Love the pics, too.

  3. Thanks! sorry my reply is so late. ;-)

  4. Great post - really informative :-)

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  6. I know that these are items I would have worn - back in the day - LOVE them and find the definitions very interesting.
    I do remember back in the 1950's when a slave bracelet was an ID bracelet with a chain link.


  7. GReat information, I did not know any of that!

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  8. I enjoyed reading more about the style of jewelry you make.

  9. I found your blog quite interesting and the concern in the blog is really impressive

    Hand Chain Bracelet