What is a Komboloi? Using a short description it’s a colourful string of beads that are also sometimes known as Greek worry beads. In reality, it is so much more. The komboloi has a long history that has made it as much a part of Greek culture as tavernas you’ll commonly see them in. This post will give you a brief introduction and in following posts I’ll go more in-depth about this wonderful little tool.
To be more specific….
A komboloi is a string of beads about two palm widths long that is manipulated by the fingers to aid in relaxation and concentration. The beads come in a wide variety of colours, materials and textures. Generally speaking, they consist of an odd number of beads with a fixed bead holding the string in a loop called a παπάς (papás) or “priest”, a “shield” (θυρεός…thyreós) that keeps the sides of the loop separate to help the beads move more freely, and a decorative tassel or “φούντα” (foúnta) at the ends of the string. The beads can be made of anything and be of any size with semi-precious and amber beads being the most prized.
A quick komboloi history….
Komboloia (plural for Komboloi) are sometimes known as the first fidget spinners. Some say their name is derived from the word kombologion (κομβολόγιον) made of κόμβος or “knot” and -λόγιο or “collection”. Worry beads are a part of many cultures including Buddhists and from India. The Greek komboloi can be traced back to Mount Athos roughly 2500 years ago. They have made their way through history and after a brief lull in popularity in the 1800s due to their association with the darker segments of society but now they are making a big comeback. From the early 1900s they were mainly for men but are now being enjoyed and collected by everyone from little kids to business people to Moms who really need a few minutes of calm with the comforting beads.
This video offers a quick introduction to the komboloi….
Komboloi In Greek Culture
With such a long history, it’s understandable that the komboloi are such a huge part of Greek culture. Today people of all ages are playing with komboloi. You are very likely to see old men sitting at a cafe table having coffee and playing with their beads while they reminisce or just pass the time. Middle aged people clack away while debating the latest in politics or while focusing on their thoughts. People use them during ritual practice or prayer (though they are traditionally secular). Some people use them as an aid in their meditations. With different beads come different sounds that lend themselves well to making music. Another popular use for komboloi mainly with younger people is practicing tricks. Some people simply enjoy their beauty and like to collect them.
So what are they good for?
The simple string of beads can have a surprisingly wide variety of uses. Komboloi can be like an old friend or confidante that is there for their owner whenever they are feeling down. Some enjoy the health benefits of playing with this drug-free relaxant and de-stresser. They have been used in music and as a ritual tool or amulet. Some people enjoy them for their collectability and get them just to look at them or decorate with them. Some appreciate them for their artistic value. Komboloi also make a fantastic souvenir for friends, family, the pet sitter…. They can also be heirlooms handed down through the generations with the stories of the ancestors. Some also see the komboloi as a status symbol where more expensive komboloi are used to display wealth. They are also used as a way for friends to bond over sharing the latest tricks their owners have mastered.
A cultural staple….
From prayer beads millennia ago to pastimes, stress-relievers, tools for mental focus and status symbols today. The komboloi has come a long way and can be far more that just a fun part of Greek culture.
What did you think? Do komboloi sound interesting? Do you have any stories or questions about komboloi? Would you just like to say hi? Please feel free to share and comment below.