Image Resources | Currently on View in Michael and Patricia McCrory & Richard and Rebecca Feldman Gallery

ritual dance rattle in the form of a raven

Haida people

This rattle is in the form of a raven, which is probably a totem, or emblem of ancestry.

On top of the raven, this rattle includes a recumbent man, a spiritual leader, who holds a frog's tongue in his mouth.

This rattle was used by a spiritual leader to harness spirits.

The Haida and other peoples of the northwest coast of the United States, Alaska and western Canada, who inhabit an area of bountiful forests and sea resources, are the greatest woodcarvers of North America.

Vice Admiral Albert Parker Niblack of Indianapolis [1859-1929] collected in Alaska 1884-1887; donated to the John Herron Art Institute {1} 1930 after his death

{1} John Herron Art Institute was precursor to Indianapolis Museum of Art

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Hawks, bears, and thunderbirds are among the totemic animals appearing in the fine carved totems, or emblems of ancestry, of the Haida people of British Columbia. In this densely patterned ceremonial rattle, a figure receives spiritual power from a raven through the medium of a frog that he holds in his mouth. The bird's tail doubles as a handle, once bound by a strap. The bottom of the rattle depicts an unidentified totem painted with green, black, and red pigments. The spiritual nature of the carvings is certain, though the precise purposes of individual rattles in relation to the animals depicted are hard to decipher: this one might depict a shaman receiving poison from the mouth of a frog or visionary prowess from a bird of prey. The intricacy of the openwork carving, sculpted from a single piece of wood, mirrors the complex relationship among the animals and the human figures.

A shaman would use the rattle's rasping sounds to harness spirits, perhaps while performing a healing dance around a patient, or at the abundant gift-giving feast known as the potlatch. Masks, charms, batons, and boxes are other ritual instruments that reinforce the inherited right to certain songs, ceremonies, animal crests, and names.

Laugh at the chief! For, although he is a chief, he has no rattle in his hand.
-Haida folk song

Object Information

Haida people
creation date
wood, pigment
12 5/8 x 3 3/4 x 3 3/4 in.
accession number
credit line
Gift of Vice Admiral Albert P. Niblack
Public Domain