Object Assessment of a Hopi Rattle from the UCL Ethnography Collections
This object (K.0016)—hereafter referred to as a ‘rattle’— was donated by Daryll Forde, a professor of anthropology at UCL from 1945-1969 (Figs 1-4). It was originally classified as an instrument from the Hopi tribe of North America.
From the research gleaned on the social/ritual value of similar rattles belonging to members of the Hopi tribe, the design on this rattle indeed seems particular to the Hopi but not to a specific occasion. This rattle is called a kachina (‘spirit’) rattle, and its various parts are visually symbolic. A round gourd with flat sides symbolises earth, and the handle symbolises the axis on which the world turns. The crosshatched motif around the outside of the body symbolises the constellation of the ‘hero twins’ (as they are called in Hopi mythology), who keep the earth revolving. The geometric design is a four-sided representation of the Milky Way, and at its centre is earth. There is therefore a double depiction of earth in this rattle: one in the round shape of the gourd and another in the dot at the centre of the four-point design.
This rattle is sometimes used in ‘kachina dances’ when re-enactments of spirits and their known behaviours in stories are acted out. The rarity of this instrument is difficult to determine and may warrant consultation and discussion with member(s) of the Hopi tribe.
Because the Hopi tribe, along with other Native American tribes, have been threatened with loss of their heritage or the remembrance of it over time, this rattle may be considered important because the Hopi seek to preserve their culture and knowledge of it. Loss of cultural practices is one concern of the Hopi, and this rattle, imbued with symbolism that pertains to distinctly to Hopi motifs and beliefs, represents part of that heritage that is in danger of being lost. As long as tangible testaments of Hopi culture such as this rattle exist and receive scholarly attention, there is more likelihood that Hopi customs and artefacts will not be neglected or forgotten.
To that end, however, if this rattle carries such a significant amount of historic and cultural value, which will only increase over time as Hopi traditions become more and more threatened to be lost, the possibility that tribe members desire its repatriation may arise in the future. Further consideration of the anthropology collection’s policies regarding return and repatriation may be necessary.
This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2017-18), one of the core courses of the UCL MA Principles of Conservation. As part of their assessed work for this course, students were asked to investigate objects from the UCL EthnographyCollections at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Here they present a summary of their main conclusions. We hope you enjoy our work! Comments are most welcome.