“I know where that bead comes from.” The blob around my neck looks like a ball of petrified monkey snot, but it does tell a story. A story of a place I love that has its roots in deserts and ports far, far away told in a time long, long ago.
The bead is a cornelian, a translucent semi-precious agate. The history of cornelian beads go back as far as 5000 years ago deep into the deserts of Arabia. Long before the Portuguese arrived in India a lucrative trading industry in cotton materials and cornelian beads existed. The beads have medicinal powers and once played a central role in Arab trade and formed part of the currency used throughout the Mediterranean, India and East Africa. Seals and signet rings of cornelian are not uncommon to Egyptian excavations associated with the Pharaohs, where the stone was regarded as a symbol of life. It is a stone of luck.
On a fateful day in February 1608 the Portuguese East Indiaman Santo Espiritu on its return journey from the East Indies was wrecked in heavy seas off Double Mouth. There were some survivors and a few escaped, some to Mozambique and some to Madagascar. Many crewmen perished with the ship as she broke up and sank off the coast. On board was a rich cargo of Chinese Ming Porcelain and cornelian beads.
A time and tide wash over the deserted beaches of the Wild Coast, and every now and then a secret is revealed. When the seas have been heavy or in the quiet wake of a tempestuous costal storm the Santo Espiritu gives up some of her treasures and they are washed onto the beach for the lucky and the observant. Shards of Chinese Ming Porcelain made towards the end of the 16th Century lie amongst the seaweed
and pebbles. There on a beach twenty minutes’ walk south along the coast from the Double Mouth Nature Reserve near Morgan Bay my bead was found.
“I know where that comes from.” I know she knew the answer. “I have searched for ten years looking for one. That comes off a Wild Coast Beach near Morgan Bay”.
It may look like a ball of snot, but ah – there is a conversation there.