Rattles

Rattle

23. Accession Number NA8490A

Object Raven Rattle

Provenience Tlingit

Date 19th Century

Material Shell, Wood, Pigment, Hide

Source Collected by Louis Shotridge, 1918

Measurements 10 cm H x 31 cm L x 8.5 cm W

Display Deck mount required

 

“In Tlingit culture, the sound of the rattle is a direct contact with the supernatural.”[1]

The raven rattle form originated in Tsimshian culture[2] and diffused along the Northwest coast with “potlatch” ceremonies, in which societal members travelled to neighboring regions and brought items of significance with them.[3] This Tlingit rattle was used in shamanic rituals to engage otherworldly spirits in endeavors, such as healing the sick.[4] In addition, Tlingit chiefs and male members of society used rattles in potlatch ceremonies.[5] In the potlatch of house construction, for example, men from outlying villages would arrive to the site of house-building in ceremonial garb, dancing to drums and shaking rattles to invoke spiritual support of the constructing task at hand.[6] Chiefs also used rattles in celebratory crest display ceremonies, in which households were endowed with crests that included cultural objects and sacred histories.[7]

The form of this rattle indicates its function. The raven’s rounded beak and ovoid eyes display delicacy and easy transition from form to form, elements that were characteristic of Northwest coast art.[8] The human on its back is a shaman who has likely invoked the guidance of the spirits, just as a shaman in Tlingit cultural practice would have done.[9] The frog tongue here seems to endow the shaman with mystical assistance. Raven rattles typically featured a shaman on the raven’s back in this fashion.[10] On the underbelly of this rattle we find a kingfisher[11] whose identity is indicated by the long hooknose. On most rattles the underbelly depicts a supernatural being,[12] so it is likely that this kingfisher has a similar purpose to the frog: divine assistance to the shaman.

It is important to note the limited use of three colors here. Tonal simplicity does not detract from the shapes, which are ultimately more important than hue. The abstract forms are rooted in nature, so even raven, human and frog are recognizable to one familiar with Tlingit artistic styles and traditions.

The customs of the shamans included dancing[13] while vigorously shaking rattles.[14] The rattles were held face up, “keeping the raven from flying away,”[15] as one collector put it. This rattle was carved in two separate pieces and then attached after a few small rocks, agents of noise, were placed inside.[16] The Tlingit valued its powerfully sonorous effects on ceremonial occasions, and its cultural value cannot be understated.

-Ariel Cohen

 

Bibliography

Glass, Aaron. Objects of Exchange: Social and Material Transformation on the Late Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast. New York: Bard Graduate Center, 2011.

Holm, Bill. Crooked Beak of Heaven: Masks and Other Ceremonial Art of the Northwest Coast. Washington: University of Washington Press, 1972.

Holm, Bill.  Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form. Washington: University of Washington Press, 1965.

Holm, Bill. Spirit and Ancestor: A Century of Northwest Coast Indian Art at the Burke Museum. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1987.

Jonaitis, Aldona. Art of the Northwest Coast. Washington: University of Washington Press, 2006.

Murdock, George Peter. “Rank and Potlatch Among the Haida” in Yale University Publications in Anthropology, Number 13. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1936.

Wardwell, Allen. Tangible Visions: Northwest Coast Indian Shamanism and Its Art. New York: Monacelli Press, 1996.


[1] Bill Holm, Crooked Beak of Heaven: Masks and Other Ceremonial Art of the Northwest Coast (Washington: University of Washington Press, 1972), 26.

[2] Aldona Jonaitis, Art of the Northwest Coast (Washington: University of Washington Press, 2006), 152.

[3] Aaron Glass, Objects of Exchange: Social and Material Transformation on the Late Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast (New York: Bard Graduate Center, 2011), 109.

[4] Bill Holm, Spirit and Ancestor: A Century of Northwest Coast Indian Art at the Burke Museum (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1987), 178.

[5] Allen Wardwell, Tangible Visions: Northwest Coast Indian Shamanism and Its Art (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1996), 261.

[6] George Peter Murdock, “Rank and Potlatch Among the Haida” in Yale University Publications in Anthropology, Number 13 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1936), 4.

[7] Allen Wardwell, Tangible Visions: Northwest Coast Indian Shamanism and Its Art (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1996), 261.

[8] Bill Holm, Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form (Washington: University of Washington Press, 1965), 89.

[9] Bill Holm, Spirit and Ancestor: A Century of Northwest Coast Indian Art at the Burke Museum (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1987), 178.

[10] Allen Wardwell, Tangible Visions: Northwest Coast Indian Shamanism and Its Art (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1996), 271.

[11] Bill Holm, Spirit and Ancestor: A Century of Northwest Coast Indian Art at the Burke Museum (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1987), 178.

[12] Aaron Glass, Objects of Exchange: Social and Material Transformation on the Late Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast (New York: Bard Graduate Center, 2011), 109.

[13] Bill Holm, Spirit and Ancestor: A Century of Northwest Coast Indian Art at the Burke Museum (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1987), 178.

[14] Bill Holm, Spirit and Ancestor: A Century of Northwest Coast Indian Art at the Burke Museum (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1987), 178.

[15] Emmons, letter to Albert Bickmore, January 29, 1888 (AMNH Anthropology Archives, acc. 1869-90-105), cited in Aaron Glass, Objects of Exchange: Social and Material Transformation on the Late Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast (New York: Bard Graduate Center, 2011), 109.

[16] Aaron Glass, Objects of Exchange: Social and Material Transformation on the Late Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast (New York: Bard Graduate Center, 2011), 109.

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