Acholi rattle

Acholi rattle
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
Northern Uganda Acholi district
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
?By 1939
Gourd Plant , Plant Seed , Clay? , Ochre ? , Resin Plant?
Hollowed , Dried , Perforated , Plugged
L = 180, body diam = 91.4 x 90.7, max diam handle = 28, diam at broken end of handle = 16.8 mm [RTS 2/9/2005].
65.5 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, roughly cut off across the 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 small pellets, probably seeds. There is a circular hole in the curving lower wall of the vessel where these were probably inserted, now blocked up with a dark brown resinous material (Pantone Black 7C). There is a second point of access through the end of the handle, which is plugged with a reddish material, that may be either ochre or ochre-rich soil or clay, with a small amount of resin on top (Pantone 4705C). A small hole has been poked down the side of this plug. This may be a later modification of the original rattle, perhaps as a repair when the handle broke, or to allow the addition of further or different pellets to modify the sound. Apart from a small chip at the end of the handle, the rattle is complete and intact. It has a weight of 65.5 grams, and is 180 mm long, with a body diameter of 90.7 by 91.4 mm, a diameter at the thicker top of the handle of 28 mm and at the broken end of the handle of 16.8 mm.

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 1942.1.425 from the Acholi (sealed in a different way), and 1979.20.11, from the Moru Misa.

Trowell and Wachsmann discuss 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 differs in its approach, as the hole has been made in the shoulder, not its base, and closed with a plug rather than being sewn shut. The neck is also plugged; it is not clear if this represents part of the original design of the object, or a break that has been 'repaired'.

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. 1942.1.425 [cloth label stuck to neck of object]; AFRICA, Uganda, Northern Province? ACHOLI tribe? Gourd 'spirit rattle', found unentered 1942, 1942.1.426 [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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