One thing I noticed about being in Colombia was just how much yellow, blue and red there is lying about the place. It is because these are the colours of the Colombian flag and they are everywhere, in houses, on churches, in car show rooms, sculptures and even on top of flag poles too. I’m not sure of the reason for this but it is nice that people take a bit of pride in their national colours unlike in the UK where the flag has been hijacked in the past by horrible racist organisations and even now is still struggling to get over it.
The colours of the flag are not only on inanimate objects but on people’s wrists too. For a very long time it has been popular to wear various bracelets depicting the Colombian tricolour, I first became aware of it when my Mum returned from a trip and gave me one. It remains on my wrist too, after many years, because it is one of the few things I have to remind me of her. For a cheap little bracelet it’s stood the test of time well, although I did need to get it restrung while there last time.
The name for these bracelets is Manilla Colombiana which straightforwardly enough means Colombian Bracelet in English and they are worn by just about everyone over there. The bracelets are made out of just about anything, I’ve seen them made from beads, metals, wood and all sorts of other stuff.
However I was shocked when, while eating lunch with some of the kids I teach in Japan, one of them pointed at the bracelet on my wrist and asked me why I was wearing a ‘misanga’. Not knowing what the little fellow was talking about I tried to explain as best I could about the manilla but he just looked at me confused.
It was only when I returned home that I discovered that in Japan they have manilla of their very own called, as the little kid had told me, a Misanga (or ミサンガ). To the Japanese though the little bracelets are not an expression of national identity like in Colombia but a simple good luck charm. Apparently when the misanga fails off your wrist by itself your wish gets granted. Generally these things are plaited and can come in just about any colour. The word comes from Portuguese and although it does refer to bracelets there too, in Portugal and Brazil these bracelets always have beads.
During the 90s when the J League was just getting off the ground it became popular to wear misanga of your team’s colours to support them, this has since extended to include baseball teams and athletes. It is mostly JHS and High School kids who wear them.
Both manilla and misanga remind me of the friendship bracelets that I remember the girls used to wear at school during my youth, the difference being though that those were simple plastic hoops, the only thing that made them interesting was that girls used to wear tens of different colours at once.
One thing (plus a watch) is enough for me.