Shagáxduxéeji áwé dulxwashjéen. (When attacking it would be sounded.)
—Anna Katzeek, 2005
This very large, round rattle may have been used during war to coordinate an attack or to strike fear and confusion into the enemy. George Ramos said that rattles like this had been described to him as part of a war leader’s outfit. Round stones were traditionally collected at low tide to put inside. The abstract designs may represent a whale or frog, but are difficult to interpret.
Region: Prince of Wales Island, Southeast Alaska
Object Category: Ceremony
Dimensions: Length 36cm
Accession Date: 1876
Source: James G. Swan (donor)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E020874
Examining & identifying
Aron Crowell: It’s called a war rattle by Swan, from Hutsnuwu, 1876. . . .
Clarence Jackson: Boy that’s intricate carving, nice job. . . .
Donald Gregory: I don’t see nostrils but I see a mouth here, like it’s the tongue, the cheeks, the eyes.
Delores Churchill: There’s no claws. Are there claws on the other side? No.
Rosita Worl: What’s that say? . . . Prince of Wales, Alaska.
Donald Gregory: Island Alaska, Swan.
Anna Katzeek: Ji gaxdu.aadín áwé dulgwálxín [before charging into war it was sounded].
That’s what I was told. When you’re in a boat, you hold it in your hand and rattle it, like getting the people’s attention.
Rosita Worl: That’s probably why we had to leave Prince of Wales [laughs]. We had a place there . . ., the thunderbirds, at Shaan goo [island in the Prince of Wales archipelago].
Clarence Jackson: They’re still there.
Rosita Worl: Yes, we’re still there. It’s a war rattle alright.
Aron Crowell: . . . So how are you sure that it’s a war rattle? What’s the identifying—
Rosita Worl: The size.
Clarence Jackson: It’s made to make a lot of noise, to carry.
Suzi Jones: . . . And what kind of wood would that be made of?
Donald Gregory: Just a guess, I would say alder. It’s hard to tell this old.
Delores Churchill: Is it heavy?
Donald Gregory: No, it’s super light.
Delores Churchill: Must be alder.
Peter Jack: Hard to identify [the design].
Anna Katzeek: It looks like a beaver.
Donald Gregory: Its bottom doesn’t have incisors, so it’s not a beaver. . . .
Delores Churchill: Doesn’t look like bear teeth either does it.
Clarence Jackson: No.
Donald Gregory: Just throwing a guess out, I would say it might be killer whale. Because it has a tail here, and these could be whale’s teeth. But it has nostrils way up here and then an ovoid down here, so it’s like if it was reversed it would be like a blow hole and nostrils.
But that would just be a guess.
Delores Churchill: What’d be on the other side then?
Donald Gregory: On the bottom down here [near handle], this is a strange face. It has nostrils, eyes and a cheek but—
Delores Churchill: A frog maybe.
Donald Gregory: Yes, but for the mouth—it doesn’t even have lips. It just has an opening for the mouth.
Delores Churchill: Because usually it has red lips too.
Donald Gregory: But on this [large face at middle] one too, again there’s no nostril, but there’s a tongue. And it has eyes, cheeks and possibly ears. Just hard to say.
Rosita Worl: You think these could be the ears?
Donald Gregory: Right here. But it switched on this other side here, it switched to a red form line in the ovoids, right on the tail here [near handle].
Normally that’s blank. And it switched, and they used red. And the same thing here, they used red on the form line. . . .
Rosita Worl: When you look at it from this angle it looks like a frog.
Delores Churchill: It does.
Donald Gregory: . . . that opening there kind of makes it look like it could possibly be the upper lip.
Rosita Worl: Can you see it Donald, if you turn it around?
George Ramos: That’s what I was showing a while ago, it looks like a frog.
Donald Gregory: I can see it.
Aron Crowell: Now, what would be the occasion for using this rattle? Anna mentioned but I wondered—
Clarence Jackson: Aadoosá heich’ itoowóoch átx wdulyéix héi sheishóox yéi koogeiyí át?
(Who do you think would use such a big Rattle as this?)
Peter Jack: Naxdu.áxcheech shakdéi wéi gwá? Gwál, aaa. Confusion waasa naxdusaa?
(Made to be heard clearly you think? Maybe so, yes. What do we call confusion in Tlingit?)
Clarence Jackson: Xool’ yáx at.tí.
Rosita Worl: Psychological warfare.
Clarence Jackson: A kayéik, naalayeidáx gáxdu.áxchee.
(So it can be heard from a long way, its echo.)
Peter Jack: Yea naaliyeidáx gaxdu.áxchee.
(Yes, so it can be heard from afar.)
Clarence Jackson: George?
George Ramos: Hei, yéi kwdiyatí, x’áan kunaayí . Dáa kweiyí náx gagisakóo. Hél ku.aas, áx éen kawdunéek daakweisá, Kunáx du daakeyí. Yaat’áa tsús yéi hás akanéek, x’áan kunaayí adée ahéi.
(As long as it is a leader of war. He is recognizable through his armor. I was never told though exactly what his armor consisted of. This has been described to me as part of a warrior leader’s armor.)
Waasá kaaxát yaa atóot katín át? Kunáx yánwulaayee, aadáx téix’isaani yéi sheishóox tóox’ yéi gáx du.oo.
(Well, what is the shape of the object inside it? At a very low tide, very small stones from there will be put in a rattle.)
[From discussion with Delores Churchill (Haida), Peter Jack, Sr. (Tlingit), Clarence Jackson, Sr. (Tlingit), Anna Katzeek (Tlingit), George Ramos (Tlingit), and Donald Gregory (Tlingit) and Rosita Worl (Tlingit) of the Sealaska Heritage Institute at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 4/18/2005-4/22/2005. Also participating: Aron Crowell and Bill Fitzhugh (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA).]