Acholi dance rattle

Acholi dance rattle
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
Northern Province
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1922
Animal Hide Skin , Tortoise Carapace Reptile , Iron Metal , Brass Metal
Plaited , Hammered , Perforated
Total L = 245 mm, W shell body 72.5 mm, Th shell body = 59 mm, W across arm band exterior = 80 mm [RTS 13/4/2004].
120.9 g
Local Name:
opuk okoko?
Field Collector:
Geoffrey Douglas Hale Carpenter
PRM Source:
Geoffrey Douglas Hale Carpenter
Donated June 1923
Collected Date:
Dance ornament for wearing around the upper arm, consisting of an arm band made from two narrow plaited hide bands bent into loops, and sewn together across their inside edges; six stitches are visible on one side, and seven on the other; the bands still have some animal hair preserved on their outer surfaces. A short plaited length of hide has been attached to the top of each loop, where it stands up at right angles. The lower ends of these loops have been passed through a series of holes bored into either side of a small tortoise carapace and knotted to secure them. The shell itself has a flat underside, which would have pointed towards the owner when the armlet was worn, and a convex back. Three holes have been bored into the upper edges of both front and back; however the top edges of two of these holes on the flat underside have broken away. There are additional holes in each side; the exact number is not clear as the hide thongs obscure this surface, but there must be at least two. The lower edge of the upper surface has also been perforated with thirteen closely spaced holes. Through each of these has been passed a small iron ring with a short length of chain attached. The rings have been made from a rectangular sectioned bar, hammered into loops with the ends overlapping or just touching. The chains are each made with 11 smaller loops as links, shaped in a similar way. A few of these links look to be made of brass, rather than iron. These are designed to rattle against the tortoise shell when dancing; the shell would act as a sound box and magnify the effect. The object is in good condition and complete, except for a small area of the shell body that seems to have worn away, just above the holes for attaching the arm band. The hide strips are currently a dark brown colour (Pantone black 4C), the iron loops a metallic gray (Pantone 421C) and the tortoise shell body a warm yellow brown (Pantone 7407C). The arm band measures 80 mm across its outer edges and 67 mm across the inside edges; the band itself is 25 mm wide and 6.5 mm thick. The carapace is 95.7 mm long, 72.5 mm wide and 59 mm high. The total length of the arm ornament, including chains, is 245 mm, and it weighs 120.9 grams.

Collected by
Geoffrey Hale Carpenter in 1922, while working as a Specialist Officer for the control of Sleeping Sickness in Uganda.

A larger version of this type of object is represented by 1942.1.427; 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). For a smaller version, to be worn around the wrist, see 1951.10.51. Trowell and Wachsmann attribute this type of rattle to the Acholi, Lango and Teso, and add that it is worn above the elbow at an angle of ninety degrees from the arm with the shell body acting as a resonator (M. Trowell & K.P. Wachsmann, 1953, Tribal Crafts of Uganda, pp 219, 325; pls 54B and 76D).

Rachael Sparks 14/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [VII, p. 76] - 1923 [pencil insert] 23 [end insert] G.D. HALE CARPENTER . 19 Bardwell Rd., Oxford. June - Specimens collected by himself in E. Africa, 1921-22. 1923.181 [p. 77, pencil insert] 9 [end insert] - Man's dance-armlet of plaited raw-hide with small tortoise-shell, to which a fringe of short chains is fixed, attached. Worn above the elbow with the tortoise shell at the back. In dancing, the chains clash against the tortoise-shell & accentuate the rhythm. ACHOLI, N. PROV. of UGANDA, 1922.
Additional Accession Book Entry [VII, p. 25 top, in pencil] - blue numbers not valid & not on specimens. Inserted by an assistant in error.

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 30/1/2004].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Armlet worn above the elbow by men when dancing. The chains strike the tortoise shell & emphasise the rhythm. ACHOLI. N. prov. of UGANDA 1922. d.d. S [sic].D.H. Carpenter 1923 [with a sketch of the armlet being worn on the back of the label; rectangular label with metal edging, tied to object; RTS 13/4/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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