Job's Tears

Section of a blouse with Job's Tears decoration from among the Karen, Myanmar. Section of a blouse with Job's Tears decoration from among the Karen, Myanmar. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum, London, acc. no. As1985,11.2.

Job's Tears is a tall, grain-bearing plant of the family Poaceae (grass family), a native of Southeast Asia. The seeds of this plant are used as a form of applied decoration. The plant flowers from July to October with the accessor fruit (pseudocarps) ripening from September to November. It grows in the open, preferably in moist soil at a high altitude.

The plant is generally known as Job’s Tears after its seeds. The term comes from the Old Testament book of Job (16:20: "Mine eye poureth out tears unto God."). It is also known as David’s Tears (after the Biblical King David), Saint Mary’s Tears and Christ’s Tears (Lacryma Christi).

There are two main varieties of the species: a cultivated type (Coix lacryma-jobi), which is harvested as a cereal crop (sometimes sold as Chinese pearl barley) and the wild variety, Coix lacryma-jobi var. stenocarpa and var. monilifer, which produces hard-shelled, pearly white, oval assessor fruit, and these are often used as beads and sewn onto textiles and garments.

The use of Job’s Tears as an applied form of decoration can be found, among other places, in India, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. It was introduced at some point into the southern United States and to various tropical regions. For several centuries, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma have used Job’s Tears as personal ornamentation. These are known as corn beads or Cherokee corn beads.


Last modified on Monday, 20 March 2017 14:20
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