Smithsonian Collections

Dance Rattle

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Data Source
NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
From card: "Carved wood. Design: The raven with the prostrate figure of Ka-ka-hete, (The whistling demon) on its back and the king fisher plucking out his tongue. The upper half of the head is missing."
From card: [taken from p. 192 of exhibit catalogue: Smithsonian Institution. 1982. Celebration, a world of art and ritual. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.] "Raven Rattle, ca. 1850-83; Haida Indians; Masset, Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada; wood, red, black, and blue paint; 6 1/4 x 13 1/3 x 4 3/8 (15.9 x 33.8 x 11.1). Chiefs and high-ranking members of the community used raven rattles like this to punctuate their speech and gestures in formal contexts. Most dancers of northern groups (Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian) held their rattles upside down, with the raven's breast up, lest they come to life and fly away, as a legendary raven rattle once did. The rattle itself is a powerful icon of spiritual transformation. Raven carries on his back a dead man toward the afterlife. The man's vital force, seen as a red bridge similar to a tongue, has been captured by Frog, a symbol of life, which is itself being captured by Kingfisher, a symbol of death. In Raven's beak is a small red object representing both the sun, which was Raven's gift to mankind, and the man's soul, which is man's reciprocal gift to the spirits. On the belly of Raven is the face of the shared soul of Raven and mankind, its beak recurved into its own mouth as symbol of the cycle of reincarnation. In its ritual use, the raven rattle reaffirmed mankind's covenant with Raven and, through its intertwined images of life, death, and rebirth, it channeled these powerful forces in a specific cycle of spiritual transformations."
James G. Swan list in accession file of collections from Masset, under # 75, identifies the carving on this rattle as representing raven, kingfisher, and wood demon.
"Ka-ka-hete" is Olala/Oolala/Ulala per Albert P. Niblack; see p. 324 in Niblack, Albert. 1890. The Coast Indians of Southern Alaska and Northern British Columbia. Based on the Collections in the U.S. National Museum, and on the Personal Observation of the Writer in Connection with the Survey of Alaska in the Seasons of 1885, 1886 and 1887 (pp. 225-386 in U.S. National Museum Annual Report for the year 1888).
Record Last Modified
2 Feb 2016
Specimen Count
James G. Swan
Donor Name
James G. Swan
Accession Date
21 Dec 1883
Collection Date
July 1883
Object Type
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Accession Number
USNM Number
Masset, Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) / Graham Island, British Columbia, Canada, North America