Tuesday, 3 May 2016

An Idiong Wooden Double Rattle (K.0018 from the UCL Ethnography Collections)

Top view of the rattle.
K.0018 is a wooden double rattle that belonged to the Idiong society of the Ibibio culture in Nigeria. The rattle is shaped like an hourglass, with two hollow bells that are attached together by a solid cylindrical wooden handle. Inside each of the bells, two short wooden sticks are tied with unwoven plant fibre strings, which are secured in a small hole. When the rattle is shaken, these wooden sticks make noise as they hit the edges of the bells.
Sketch of one of the bells showing its hollow interior and the wooden sticks. The linear marks indicate the direction of carving.
The rattle was carved out of one piece of hard, pale wood with a thin, flat-faced tool. The four wooden sticks were likely cut from branches. The outside of the rattle was then painted with a dark red substance, which is probably a plant resin that may be mixed with a pigment. The wooden bells of the rattle act as resonators that intensify the rattling sound (Tsoumis 1991, 204). Also, the curvature of the bells and the rattle’s painted surface enhance the sound quality (Tsoumis 1991, 204).

The collections record states that the rattle was donated by Mervyn David Waldegrave Jeffreys, an anthropologist and colonial district officer (British Museum 2016a). It was likely donated sometime between 1945, when UCL’s collection was established, and Jeffreys’ death in 1975.

This rattle symbolizes the Idiong secret society, which is a group of medical practitioners (Jeffreys 1930, 53). K.0018 is probably an Ekput rattle, which is an Idiong rattle that has a very similar design (Akpabot 1975, 16). Ekput is played in Idiong ritual music to worship their ancestors’ spirits and their god (Akpabot 1975, 16). Clearly, K.0018 has cultural, social and spiritual significance. This rattle also has educational and scientific value because it is a unique object in UCL’s Ethnography Collections.

Overall, the rattle is in a good, stable condition. There are no missing parts and little evidence of deterioration in the wood. There are some deep scratch marks on the bells and a hole in one bell, but these are not worsening. Tiny flakes of paint occasionally come off, although in general, careful handling does slight or no damage. The paint has also faded in some areas and there is significant wear on the handle and edges of the bells. There are also distinct lines of wear on the top and bottom of the bells along the area that is contact with the surface on which the rattle rests. The plant fibre strings remain strong. The rattle is stable enough to continue being used in the teaching collection.
Detailed view of the flaking resin.
(All photographs taken by author.)


Akpabot, S., 1975. Ibibio Music in Nigerian Culture. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

British Museum, 2016a. Prof M D W Jeffreys (Biographical Details). Available at: <http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=38607> [Accessed 30 Mar. 2016].

Jeffreys, M., 1930. Notes and Reports on the Ibibio. [Manuscript] London School of Economics Archives, International African Institute. London.

Newman, R., 1998. Tempera and Other Nondrying-Oil Media. In: V. Dorge and F. Howlett (eds.) Painted Wood: History and Conservation. Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute.

Tsoumis, G., 1991. Science and Technology of Wood: Structure, Properties, Utilization. New York: Chapman and Hall.

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