Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Zoye Marinopoulou
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1 ZOYE MARINOPOULOU AND HER COLLECTIONCould smart phones one day serve the same purpose for younger Greeks that the komboloi did for generations past? After all, in today’s world the komboloi is simply used for enjoyment or to help pass the time.

On a recent trip to Greece, Zoye Marinopoulou had the 2 MUSEUM CERTIFICATEgood fortune of spending time at the Komboloi Museum in Nafplion, Greece. For Zoye, a collector of komboloia, this unique museum reinforced her interest in and collection of all types of komboloia, today known as worry beads. The Greek word for worry beads komboloi comes from the word kombos (knot) and the verb leo (to say), meaning “in each knot I say a prayer.”

According to the online Athens Info Guide, monks on Mount Athos in northern Greece made komboloia by making strands of beads made of knots tied on a string at regular intervals. These knotted prayer strings are called komboskini. Other early komboloia were made out of wood, shells, hazelnuts and olive pits. Purists insist that a komboloi should be made of natural materials, such as amber, coral, bone, horn, seeds or mother of pearl. However, most komboloi beads are now made from polyesteric resins, a mixture of chemically-produced artificial resins made to look like amber. Komboloia made from the crafted resins give off a unique sound, are heavier than plastic and can withstand more flips and twists than glass or even wooden beads.

Today komboloia are an ever present symbol of the Greek leisure mentality. The owner flips, twists, and in other ways manipulates the worry beads along the string to create a unique sound and to pass the time.

As the lyrics from a popular song say, “I shall throw away my watch and buy a set of worry beads.” This is exactly the symbolism of the komboloi. Thus komboloia can be used simply to help pass the time and keep your hands busy. Or how about a way to give up smoking? Or the smart phone?

Zoye Erene Fidler Marinopoulou’s grandfather Martin Marino was from the village of 18 YIAYIA IRENE AND ZOYE CIRCA1970Bouyiati in Arcadia in the Peloponnese region of Greece. Her grandmother Irene Frangopoulou from the island of Leros in the Aegean Sea is seen here with Zoye.  Zoye’s interest in all things Greek began with her attendance at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Seattle where her mother, also Zoye, was the church secretary.  She remembers helping to make koliva, (sweet grain mixture for memorial services) andprosphoro (bread used in preparation for communion), learning to read and write in Greek school, the wonderful food, the dancing at weddings and baptisms.  She has traveled to Greece ten times to date and maintains a close association with her relatives there.  Testament to the depth of her roots, she legally changed her surname from Fidler to Marinopoulou.

 By John and Joann Nicon, February 2012
1 Zoye Erene Marinopoulou and her collection
2 Certificate from Komboloi Museum in Nafplion
3 Red garnet with a tassel
4 Classic orange bakelite
5 Classic orange bakelite with tassel
6 Yellow bakelite with drachma tag
7 Metal beads and chain
8 Seeds from North Africa
9 Begleri with plastic beads and Greek flag
10 Evil eye beads with tassel
11 Camel bone replica
12 Glass bead komboloi made by Zoye
13 Metal and plastic beads with Hellas on tag
14 Metaxa souvenir
15 Yellow plastic beads with large tassel
16 Large display komboloi
17 Zoye’s growing collection
18 Yiayia Erene Marino and Zoye, circa 1980
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, January 2012; Komboloi Museum, Nafplion, Greece; Athens Info Guide,