Acholi wrist rattle

Acholi wrist rattle
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By circa 1926
Tortoise Carapace Shell Animal , Iron Metal , Brass Metal , Animal Hide Skin , Ochre
Perforated , Plaited
Arm band W ext. = 70, W int. = 57; band W = 11, th = 5.3; carapace L = 63, W = 55.5, th = 31.2; diam upper holes = 2, diam lower holes = 1.5; total L = 158 mm [RTS 21/2/2005].
35.8 g
Local Name:
opuk okoko?
Other Owners:
Geoffrey Douglas Hale Carpenter
Field Collector:
Geoffrey Douglas Hale Carpenter
PRM Source:
Geoffrey Douglas Hale Carpenter
Donated 1951
Collected Date:
circa 1926
Rattle for wearing around the wrist, possibly for use during dances. This consists of a wrist band made from 2 narrow hide strips, perforated along their lengths and interwoven with one another to create a plaited band with a herringbone design. This has traces of red ochre on both inner and outer faces. This band has been bent into a loop, and its ends separated and passed through a series of holes in the top edges of a small tortoise carapace. The flat underside has a group of 3 holes on each side, while the convex upper surface has only 2 holes on either side. The loose ends are then secured with a knot. The shell body is complete, and hollow, and was worn with the head end facing towards the owner's wrist. A series of 16 small holes have been bored in a row that runs along the lower edge of the upper shell. Small iron and brass rings have been passed through these holes, and short lengths of iron chains attached to them. These would rattle against the tortoise shell whenever the owner moved, with the shell acting as a soundbox that would magnify the effect. The rings have been made from simple rods, bent into shape with ends touching or overlapping; the chains are made with 9 to 11 oval links, made in a similar way and arranged at right angles to one another. The rattle is in good condition, and nearly complete, with 2 rings and 4 lengths of chain missing. There are some polished areas on the edges of the band that may represent use-wear. The hide is a mid brown colour (Pantone Warm Gray 9C) with red ochre (Pantone 4705C); the shell body is a warm yellow (Pantone 7509C), while the brass rings are a metallic yellow (Pantone 871C) and the iron has largely rusted to a reddish brown colour (Pantone 469C). The arm band measures 70 mm across its outer edges and 57 mm across the inside edge; the band is 11 mm wide and 5.3 mm thick, while the carapace is 63 mm long, 55.5 mm wide and 31.2 mm thick. The holes in the upper edge of the shell have diameters of around 2 mm, while those cut around the lower edge have smaller diameters of around 1.5 mm. The total length of the object, including chains, is 158 mm, and it has a weight of 35.8 grams.

Collected by Geoffrey Douglas Hale Carpenter in the area of the North Ugandan border around 1926, and donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1951. Carpenter had served in
the Colonial Medical Service in Uganda as a Specialist Officer for Control of Sleeping Sickness between 1920 and 1930.

This rattle is probably Acholi in origin, based on its similarity to better provenanced examples. For larger versions of this type of rattle, see 1942.1.427 and 1923.23.9, said to have been worn above the elbow by men and to have been used in dances. A similar dance rattle is published by Boccassino, who gives it the Acholi name opuk okoko ; this object is currently in the Museo Preistorico ed Etnnografico 'Luigi Pigorini' in Rome (R. Boccassino 1964, "Contributo allo studio dell’ ergologia delle popolazioni Nilotiche e Nilo-camitche. Parte quarta. Il vestito, il tatuaggio, le deformazioni del corpo, gli ornamenti e la circoncisione", Annali Lateranensi XXVIII , fig. 67). See also M. Trowell & K.P. Wachsmann, Tribal Crafts of Uganda, 1953, pls 54B and 76D; they attribute this type of rattle to the Acholi, Lango and Teso (p. 219), and add that it is worn above the elbow at an angle of ninety degrees from the arm; the shell body acts as a resonator (p. 325).

Rachael Sparks 14/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry - 'PROFESSOR G. D. HALE CARPENTER, EMERITUS PROFESSOR, DEPT. OF ENTOMOLOGY, OXFORD. (All collected by Donor, c. 1926) 1951.10.51 - NORTHERN UGANDA BORDER; Rattle worn on wrist. Plaited leather thongs, with a small tortoise attached (shell only) having short lengths of iron chains, as a fringe to clash against the shell, at the back [insert] end [end insert] of the tortoise. Shell 2 1/2" long; chains 1 1/2" long, armlet 2 1/2" diam.'

Card Catalogue Entry - NORTHERN UGANDA BORDER Rattle worn on wrist. Plaited leather thongs, with a small tortoise shell attached, having short lengths of iron chains as a fringe to clash against the shell, at the end of the tortoise. Coll by donor c. 1926. d.d. Professor G.D. Hale Carpenter.

Pitt Rivers Museum label - 1951.10.51. N. UGANDA BORDER. Tortoise-rattle worn on wrist. d.d. Prof. Hale Carpenter. Coll. C. 1926 [circular metal-edged tag, tied to object; RTS 21/2/2005].

Display History:
PRM display - NORTHERN UGANDAN BORDER Rattle made from a tortoise shell. Worn on the wrist. donor c. 1926. d.d. Professor G.D. Hale Carpenter. 1951.10.51.

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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