Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Object Assessment - Double rattle

The double rattle is made of white wood and carved with one male face and one female face on each end but opposite sides. The whole rattle is painted with white pigment which has faded and other colour pigments were used to draw different patterns on the rattle. There are also crossing patterns which are painted with red, yellow and black pigments on both hollows. Some red and yellow pigments have faded, but pink and light yellow colour remains were left on the rattle. Each hollow has three sticks attached inside with a straw rope. There are some small holes on the rattle as well. On one side of the rattle, this object's accession number 'K.19' was written with acrylic coating. The main body of the rattle is 279mm in length and 45mm in height. The handle part is 45mm in width while the hollow part is 90mm in width. The depth of the hollows is 51mm. 

 Figure.1 Double rattle
 Figure.2 Hollow
 Figure.3 Faded pigments
This double rattle is used for junior Ekpe dances by Ibibios. Ekpe is a very important society which is related to village councils in Ibibio villages (Lieber, 1971). Dancing is a very important activity for Ekpe, during masquerader dancing, the member of Ekpe will hold the rattle in each hand (Ottenberg, 2012). The colour and patterns of this double rattle are related to Ekpe society. Yellow, red and white are significant colours which are used to show members' rank in Ekpe society (Lieber, 1971). Moreover, white and yellow masks represent the souls of ancestors through the dances during festivals. The yellow belts with red dots and black lines and a long cone on each side could symbolize leopard which has totemic significance for the society (Lieber, 1971).

This object can be valuable as evidence to explore the status of men and women and the trend in Ibibio communities, since 'Ekpe' in Ibibio can also be called 'Egbo', and Egbo was originally a women's secret society (Talbot, 1923) which became a secret society only for men afterwards. On the double rattle, man and woman's faces are in each end of the rattle, which may show gender status in this community. Compared with other double rattles, this object could have higher aesthetic and technical values. This object was painted in bright colours and the raw material of this rattle is bright coloured wood rather than dark one. Human face decoration is also rare among double rattles. The hollows have curved surfaces which is technically harder to make compared with normal square hollow rattles.


Lieber, J. (1971). Efik and Ibibio villages. Ibadan: Univ. of Ibadan. 

Ottenberg, S. (2012). Objects from a Colonial War: The Dyer Collection. African Arts, 45(2), pp.70-81.

Talbot, P. (1923). Life in southern Nigeria: The magic, beliefs and customs of the Ibibio tribe. London: Macmillan, p.170. 

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.  

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