Your first sight of komboloi
or Greek worry beads may be in a blur of beads as you see them furiously worked by a nervous Greek passenger in the next seat as the plane starts to descend. Prayer bead or fidget toy, at that moment, komboloi fulfill both purposes.
Or you may catch sight of them as you race past an airport souvenir stand, where they dangle by the dozens. Wherever you first notice them, they are bound to be strangely compelling. Once you touch them, and feel the smooth beads sliding through your fingers, you may find yourself hooked.
Origins of Greek Worry Beads
Like most Greek folk art, the history of komboloi is confused. Some claim that they are a recent addition to mainland Greek culture, arriving only seventy or eighty years ago and then achieving a fashionable status. Or that they are a mimicry of Turkish prayer bead strands, adopted by persecuted Greeks to mock their captors. Still another theory suggests that the Turkish conquerors forbade their Greek subjects to shake hands, and the beads were introduced as a way of reminding Greeks to not shake hands.
Others assert, probably more rightly, that they are derived from the knotted prayer strands (komboskini) used by Greek Orthodox monks, which are also available for sale to tourists. As the word komboloi means "group of knots", this may be the true origin.
Greek Worry Beads - Not for Men Only
Until recently, komboloi were the special province of men, and were rarely seen in the hands of women. Melina Mercouri
was an exception, often handling a silver strand in public as she fought for recognition of Greece's cultural sovereignty. Modern young Greek men would disdain carrying them. But now, as they transcend cultural tradition and become a fashion accessory, both men and women are carrying them. Beautifully crafted strands are appearing in fine jewelry stores, and older strands are becoming prized collector items.
What are Worry Beads?
Most komboloi are strands of about sixteen to twenty beads, with one bead tied and set off, usually adorned with a tassel. They can be strung on leather, string, or fine metal chain. Some are what I call "flippers" - two bigger beads on a short length of cord, which bounce back and forth against the hand. Next Page: Varieties of Komboloi