Acholi rattle

Acholi rattle
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
Northern Uganda Acholi district?
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
?By 1939
Gourd Plant , Plant Fibre , Plant Seed
Hollowed , Dried , Perforated , Twisted , Stitched , Wound
Gourd body L = 215, body diam = 99.3 x 98.7, handle max diam = 26, min diam at base = 14; suspension loop L = 40, W = 5, th = 5.5 mm [RTS 2/9/2005].
44.3 g
Other Owners:
Found unentered in 1942, with the original donor being uncertain; it may be Armine Charles Almroth Wright, based on the likely object provenance, in which case Wright was probably collector as well as donor; however note that Seligman also donated Acholi
Field Collector:
?Armine Charles Almroth Wright
PRM Source:
?Henry Balfour ?Armine Charles Almroth Wright
Found unentered 1942
Collected Date:
?By 1939
Vessel rattle, made from a small gourd plant that has been hollowed out and dried. This has a spherical body and narrow tapering neck with rounded end that serves as the instrument's handle. The exterior of the gourd is a reddish brown colour (Pantone 7517C). The interior has been filled with a number of medium-sized pellets, probably seeds, that create a rattling sound when shaken. These would have been inserted through the top of the vessel, where a central hole has been cut; this has been sewn shut with a length of twisted 2-ply discoloured brown plant fibre cord (Pantone 7533C), with the stitches passing through a ring of 8 small holes around the mouth, then woven into a solid knot over the opening. This has been finished with a small suspension loop of the same fibre, wound tightly around some kind of core. The rattle is complete and intact, with a weight of 44.3 grams; the body is 215 mm long, with a diameter of 99.3 by 98.7 mm; the handle has an upper diameter of 26 mm and a base diameter of 14 mm, while the suspension loop is 40 mm long, 5 mm wide and 5.5 mm thick.

This object was found unentered in the museum in 1942, and records were unclear as to who the original donor had been.
A pencilled note 'spirit rattles, used by female Acholi' was thought to refer to this object and 1942.1.425, and the style of object is consistent with Acholi rattles. If this attribution is correct, there are several likely donors for this object, including Armine Charles Almroth Wright, Charles Gabriel Seligman, Geoffrey Douglas Hale Carpenter or Samuel P. Powell.

For similar rattles, see 1970.13.23 (with decoration) and 1942.1.426 from the Acholi (sealed in a different way), and 1979.20.11, from the Moru Misa.

Trowell and Wachsmann say of Ugandan gourd rattles: "These are ubiquitous; they occupy a prominent place in magico-religious ceremonial and are used in many dances. As ritual practices decrease the rattles become rare, and it is already becoming difficult to secure specimens or at least to see them in action. The narrow neck of the calabash serves as a handle and the spherical part as the rattling vessel proper; the gourd is filled with stones or seeds. A normal length of the whole instrument is between twenty and thirty cm ... a hole in the apex of the gourd, where stones or seeds have been inserted, is sewn up carefully with a pattern of string (Acholi)..." (M. Trowell & K.P. Wachsmann, 1953,
Tribal Crafts of Uganda, p. 322 and pl. 74A1, for a Lango example). This example shows the method of sealing described as being Acholi, suggesting its cultural attribution is correct.

Rachael Sparks 2/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [XI, p. 75] - The late H. BALFOUR, Esq. F.R.S. Specimens from different parts of AFRICA found unlabelled. As it is impossible to identify the real donor, or donors, it is assumed for convenience in using the Donor's Index that the specimens are given by Mr Balfour. Mostly without indication of provenance. [p. 81] The late H. Balfour, F.R.S. (Continued from 1942.1.396-399) [...] 1942.1.425/426 - [1 of] Two gourd rattle pellet-rattles, the first with larger-sized, the second with smaller-sized seeds inside, making a different noise. Probably ACHOLI, NORTHERN PROV., UGANDA. (A pencilled note " Spirit rattles, used by [female symbol] ACHOLI" most probably refers to these specimens.)

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

Pitt Rivers Museum label - Spirit rattle, used by women. ACHOLI, NORTHERN PROV. UGANDA. 1942.1.426 [cloth label stuck to neck of object] ; AFRICA, Uganda, Northern Province? ACHOLI tribe? Gourd 'spirit rattle', found unentered 1942, 1942.1.425 [plastic coated label, tied to object; ; RTS 1/9/2005].

Related Documents File - It is possible the donor has been incorrectly identified as Henry Balfour. In the Related Documents File is a list detailing: "Donors, or probable donors, of material entered under Mr. Balfour's name. 1942.1.425/26, ? A.C.A. Wright [MR 2/5/2000].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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