Art in Non-Western Societies Ritual Object From the Iroquois Tribe Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1354 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Native Americans

Art in Non-Western Society

The art object under review is an Iroquois ritual object; a turtle rattle, ca 1890,

Material used; turtle shell, wood, sinew, stone

Location; Northeast U.S., West of the Great Lakes, South of Virgina (today), Northeast coast of Canada and U.S.

Brief description:

The large turtle rattle, or 'snapping- turtle rattle' is composed of the complete shell and skin of a snapping- turtle, 12-14 inches long, with head and neck stretched and held by stick splints to form a handle. It is commonly used for ritual and ceremonial purposes in rituals such as the Great Feather Dance and in the performances of the Wooden False Face Society, "whose members also carry them attached by a string to their wrists. Smaller rattles are made from of young snapping turtle measuring approximately 8-10 inches long. It is often used in the Women's Song Rite. "


Turtle rattles are mainly used in ceremonial and healing rituals. These are linked to mythical and religious social structures in the society. According to Iroquois beliefs, it was the mud turtle that saved the daughter of the Chief of the Sky when she accidentally fell through a hole in the heavens. As most of the animals watched her descent in alarm, the turtle dove to the bottom of the sea to bring up mud to make a soft place for her to land. It is also linked to originating myths in that the small area of mud on the turtle's back evolved into the earth.

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The turtle shell is described in the Lewis Henry Morgan collection in New York as follows:

TOPIC: Term Paper on Art in Non-Western Societies Ritual Object From the Iroquois Tribe Assignment

The turtle-shell rattle is used in the dance, both as an accompaniment to the singing, and to mark the time. In all of their dances, except the war dance, the singers are seated in the centre of the room, and the dancers pass around them in an elliptical line. They strike the rattle upon the bench, in beating time, as frequently as thrice in a second, and accompany it with singing. After removing the animal from the shell, a handful of flint corn is placed within in, and the skin sewed up. The neck of the turtle is stretched over a wooden handle." (Morgan 1849:86)

The following is a brief description of the making of a turtle rattles. "After the outer shell has been cleaned, a dowel stick is inserted at the bottom. The holes in the shell are covered in deer hide and wrapped with sinew. Inside the shell are kernels of corn, stones or glass beads, which make the rattling sound."

These objects are an important part of the medicine man's repertoire and a necessary part of most ritual and magical work.

Interestingly Speck and Genera note that,

The manner of holding and shaking the horn rattle undergoes some variation as the hands of the users become tired from continued exertion when conducting the longer chants. The rattle held in the right hand, while usually shaken free, may be struck against the upturned palm of the left (occasionally when the hand is resting on the left thigh) and also directly against the thigh, as the notion may prompt.

3. Research

Artistic objects are intrinsic to the Native way of life. These objects were created in prehistoric times for utilitarian purposes. Baskets, tools, clothes, and other household items were always embellished with designs that honored the Native World and celebrated daily existence. Native Americans iconography represents emotions, spirituals essences, and the unseen forces often experienced in dreams. Many patterns come from nature, including those developed from geometric shapes, while others are religious in origin. Exceedingly personal, in many cases their meaning has only been known by their creators. Rattles made of the outer shell of various kinds of turtles are used in dances and ceremonies throughout North America. The Turtle rattles however are more specifically ceremonious and religious in nature and are used almost exclusively for ritual purposes due to their sacred nature.

The Iroquois, Delaware and Cherokee considered the turtle shell rattle to be very sacred. It… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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