Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

Follow along with us as we explore World Cultures - subscribe by email


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Make a Gris Gris {West African Good Luck Charms}

A gris-gris (or grigri) is an amulet or talisman believed to bring the wearer good luck and/or protection from bad luck. Though some associate them with voodoo, gris-gris are commonly used by people throughout West Africa, whether Muslim, Christian or animist. Gris-gris are considered powerful, and are used as lucky charms, keeping the wearer safe and in good health. They're also considered protection against bad luck, bad neighbors, bad employers or even against sorcery. They can be worn around the neck, arms, waist, attached to belts and bags. Babies often wear one (or more) as a necklace or on tummy belts to keep them safe. In this gallery, you can see gris-gris as they are worn (you'll see lots of cute babies wearing them).

A West African Tuareg Gris Gris from Niger
Photo Credit: Teo Gomez
Gris-gris are often small leather pouches that come in different shapes, sizes and colors. They often contain a verse from the Qur'an and/or items for luck such as dried plants and roots, coins, locks of hair, and animal bones. They can be carved in the shape of animals, decorated with designs, included beadwork or metal - some families have generations old personal designs on them.

Make Your Own Gris-Gris - A West African Good Luck Charm

We made our own gris-gris with chamois picked up at a hardware store, beads, cowrie shells, cording and acrylic paint.  

First, we each created our own template - a pouch with a "neck". Then a piece of chamois leather was folded in half - the template is then traced with the edge of the neck on the fold. When cut out you have one piece joined at the "neck" (I forgot to take a picture of it unfolded). 

Decorate the front of your gris-gris. I was pleasantly surprised both girls chose the longer process of sewing on beads and cowrie shells. I wanted mine to look like darker leather, so I first painted a wash of watered down brown acrylic paint over it - once dry, I used acrylic paint to add a design. 

Then we sewed the pouch together with very simple stitching - making sure to leave the "neck" open. This creates an opening to put charms inside and for the cording to run through. We used leather cording to attach the gris-gris: Pea folded her length of cording in half, added knots throughout and a knot and loop on the ends. 

Then we decided what to place inside. Inspired by the Qur'anic verses, we each chose and printed an inspirational quote to be folded and placed inside. The girls also have various polished stones and picked one each to include. You can leave the pouch open with its contents or you can sew the contents inside, sewing the pouch shut. 

These may or may not bring good luck, but with their inspirational quotes they are reminders of something meaningful to each of us. Though I doubt they'll be sporting their gris-gris on their arms :)

Do you use good luck charms?

Find more cultural and historical activities at the following linkups:


  1. Grisgris comes up in a few books and movies I've read set in New Orleans, I guess that means that portion of the community came from West Africa.

    1. Yes, the concept of gris-gris were brought over to the US through the transatlantic slave trade, though from what I"ve read in New Orleans gris-gris is associated with voodoo and "dark magic".

  2. This is great and I like the discussion about the relationship to New Orleans. Cool!

  3. These are so great - they turned out beautifully and remind me a little of the parfleche packets we made a few weeks ago

    1. They reminded me a lot of the parfleches packets! Ours do have a Native American look to them, don't they?


Thanks for stopping by to visit. Please feel free to leave a comment, it's lovely to hear from you!

Blog Design by Delicious Design Studio