Komboloi...or Fiddle Beads

A wonderful article by Greg Birbil  where he delightfully describes everything about "Komboloi" - something unique to Greek culture which is what the locals call the worry beads.

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I know, I know, before you all tell me, they are worry beads, not fiddle beads. Since Greeks like to play the game of being worriers, when I think they do not really worry, I would rather call them fiddle beads, fiddle being a better word to describe how they are used.

The history of the Komboloi is readily available, the most important thing is that they have no religious use, they are the only beads handled that are not for praying. They originated from prayer beads, Buddhist, to Moslem, to Catholic (rosaries), then our beads, the newly named fiddle beads. The name komboloi is derived from the komboskini; the knotted prayer strings that Greek Orthodox monks make for praying. Komboloi means knot and word, but they have no religious use, maybe just the opposite…it is really an idler’s object.

When we first came to Greece in the early 60’s, older men, usually from Asia Minor, working-class, only used Komboloi. Everybody else fiddled with something, key-chains, string…anything else that you could fiddle with. Today it seems they are popular in all classes. They are available in periptera for a few Euros or in specialized collectors stores for up to thousands of Euros. They are collected by all levels of people and have lost some of the Rembetico connection, although maybe that is one of the attractions, for me it is.

Amber ones to be stroked and caressed due to their fragileness, Faturan ones to be handled rougher, and twirled aggressively. Komboloi are made out of everything, from precious stones to camel bones…I love them. They seem to bring me back to my roots, Asia Minor, where they originally came from.

My Father was too Americanized to use them; he was a calm guy and didn’t worry or fiddle. I, on the other hand use them often. I even had a set made to give away as a company gift; it had our logo on it “the truth well told.”
I have to admit, I got the idea from Tom Pappas when I fist came to Greece to help open McCann, he gave me a set of fiddle beads with the Esso Pappas logo on them.

The komboloi are used all over Greece, while having a coffee and a cigarette and using your cell phone, the twirling of the fiddle beads is deafening. You have to be a real Greek and done time in the Greek Army to really know how to do this…I am practicing, but without the Army, this may be a lost cause


The painting was made by Paul Birbil

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