Native American Rattles

Native American rattles, or shakers as they know them, are an integral part of their culture and ceremonial life. Rattles may be used to accompany drums during a ceremony or help to keep the beat during rituals and secular festivities. The earliest rattles were made from animal hide and lashed to a small wooden staff to hold. The animal hide would have been filled with very small rocks and sewn shut. The rattles also doubled as children's toys in some instances but were predominantly used in ceremonies; they were a symbol of music, spirituality, dance and medicine in most tribes. The simplistic raw hide rattle is found among nearly every Native American culture.

The rattles or shakers were decorated with feathers, painted with sacred animals or depictions of tribal lore and mythology. Animal fur, strings of beads and any other available embellishments were used depending upon their availability. Rattles differ from tribe to tribe and the most notable of all rattles are those from the Navajo tribe; they often would use turtle shells for the rattle casing. The rattles are representative of the three kingdoms in tribal beliefs. The three kingdoms are animal, which is represented by the casing or feather decorations, mineral, which is designated by the rocks or clay pieces used for the rattles, and finally the plant kingdom represented by the casing or wooden handle. The sound the rattles make is believed to help clear the player's mind and bring serenity.

Anyone can make a rattle at home with a few everyday objects. First find a "Y" shaped stick from the yard. Next, using string or twine, wrap the rattles staff, the "Y" shaped stick; this can be as colorful or neutral as desired. While wrapping the staff add trinkets such as charms and small buttons to the twine or yarn to add aesthetics to the rattle. After wrapping glue down or tie off the yarn so it does not come free form the rattle. For the casing or container, any fabric may be used, or the artist may desire to hollow out a gourd, dry it and attach it to the staff for a traditional type rattle; attach the gourd suing glue or lashings and be sure to place some small rocks or beans in the rattle prior to sealing and attachment.

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