Acholi dance rattle

Acholi dance rattle
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
?Northern Uganda
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
?By 1939
Animal Hide Skin , Tortoise Carapace Reptile , Brass Metal , Iron Metal
Plaited , Hammered , Perforated
L = 367 mm, W carapace = 108 mm, Ht carapace = 73.7 mm, W across arm band exterior = 87 mm [RTS 14/4/2004].
379.4 g
Local Name:
opuk okoko?
Other Owners:
This object was found in the Museum collections in 1942, having not yet been accessioned. The original donor of the object is not certain, and no suggestions were made at the time of accessioning as to whom this might be; it was ascribed to Henry Balfour
Field Collector:
?Henry Balfour
PRM Source:
?Henry Balfour
Donated January 1942
Collected Date:
?By 1939
Dance ornament or rattle, supposedly worn around the upper arm by men. This consists of a broad arm band made up of four narrow plaited bands sewn together by interweaving a single hide strip of similar width across the group in a broad zigzag pattern. At the top of this band, three vertical ornaments project at right angles to it, made up of groups of hide strips sewn in place, then decorated with three modern brass cartridge cases. These have a series of small twigs or sticks fitted between the edge of the case and the hide strips to make them stay in place. The cases have a flanged top, which is split down the side, then a cylindrical body ending in a shallow groove and disc base with circular recessed underside, each stamped around the outer edge with the inscription: DWM K K 351. The centre of the underside, and some of the inscribed letters are coloured red. On the other end of this arm band, a series of hide strips are used to lash the band in place onto the top of a large tortoise carapace, passing the strips through a series of holes that have been bored into its upper edge. There are currently three functioning holes on each side of this, although only five of the six holes have been used to fasten the band in place. There are also the bases of at least two further holes visible, suggesting that the top edge of the carapace may have broken off at some time in the past and been reworked. The shell has a flat underside and convex back. A series of 18 holes have been bored through its lower edge, and brass and iron rings passed through it, to which short lengths of iron chain have been attached. One length of chain is now missing. The rings are largely round in section, whereas the chain links are flat and rectangular or square in section; both are made from rods or bars bent into loops with ends just touching. Each chain is made up of around 10 links. The hide strips are currently a light brown colour (Pantone 466C), the brass loops and cartridge cases a dull metallic yellow (Pantone 872C), the iron loops a metallic gray (Pantone 423C) and the tortoise shell body a warm yellowish brown (Pantone 7407C). The arm band measures 87 mm across its outer edges and 77 mm across the inside edges; the band itself is 40 mm wide and 5.3 mm thick. The carapace is 181 mm long, 108 mm wide and 73.7 mm high, and the cartridge cases each have a diameter of 11.5 mm. The total length of the arm ornament, including chains, is 367 mm, and it weighs 379.4 grams.

This object was found in the Museum collections in 1942, having not yet been accessioned. The original donor of the object is not certain, and no suggestions were made at the time of accessioning as to whom this might be. There are several possibilities.
Geoffrey Douglas Hale Carpenter had donated two similar Acholi rattles to the Pitt Rivers Museum in the 1920's (see 1923.23.9 and 1951.10.51), while before 1942 Acholi material had also been presented by Armine Charles Almroth Wright and Charles Gabriel Seligman, and given on loan by Samuel P. Powell.

A smaller version of this type of object is represented by 1923.23.9, also attributed to the Acholi and said to have been worn above the elbow by men. 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). 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 [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) [...] 1942.1.427 - Rattle made of a complete tortoise shell; the [insert] tail end [end insert] edge of the curved top portion of the shell is perforated with a number of holes through which pass small chains of iron and brass. To the head-end of the shell a broad ring of plaited leather thongs is fastened (?for wearing round leg, or upper arm); to the ring three European cartridge cases are attached covering the ends of the thongs. Provenance unknown . East Africa (it is doubtful whether the note referring to Nos 1942.1.425/426 covers also this specimen.) [Additional Accession book entry in different pen] N. PROV. OF UGANDA. ACHOLI TRIBE.
Additional Accession Book Entry - [p. 80, opposite] Dance armlet rattle. [further down same page, presumably still referring to this piece] cf. spec. dd. G.D.H. Carpenter 1923. Worn by men above the elbow.

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. 1942.427-29, No suggestion", indicating that, although they are not certain of the donor, it was possibly NOT Henry Balfour. Note that 2 other dance rattles of similar design in the collection were collected by Geoffrey Douglas Hale Carpenter in the 1920's (1923.23.9 and 1951.10.51) [RTS 13/1/2005].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Rattle armlet, EAST AFRICA. N. prov. of UGANDA. ACHOLI TRIBE. 1942.1.427 [rectangular tag with metal edge, tied to object; RTS 13/4/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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