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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: April 2018

1 - Rattles and Clappers


DANCING is a most important feature of the social life of all the native peoples of South Africa, and, as an adjunct to the dance, rattles of different kinds are almost invariably used.

The Bushmen had two or three varieties. Pride of place must be given to the dainty ankle-rattles which their women fashioned from the ears of the springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis). They were observed by Burchell (1812), who described them as worn by a Bushman. ‘Round each ankle he wore a sort of rattle, made (in this instance) of four ears of the springbuck, sewed up and containing a quantity of small pieces of ostrich-egg shell, which at every motion of the foot produced a sound that was not unpleasant or harsh, but greatly aided the general effect of the performances.’ Burchell gave a drawing of the rattle on the leg of a dancer, and he actually obtained the instruments used by the performer. They are preserved in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, where I examined them through the courtesy of the curator, Mr. Henry Balfour. They are black with age and shrivelled up. Two pairs, however, may be seen in South Africa, one in the McGregor Museum, Kimberley, and the other in my collection, given to me by the late Miss D. F. Bleek. Both sets were used by Cape Bushmen, and were made by a Bushwoman near Prieska. They were obtained in 1910. One rattle from the former pair is shown in Figure 1.1. It consists of five ears, beautifully sewn with sinew.

In Bleek and Lloyd's Bushman Folklore3 there is a quaint account, in the vernacular, of how these dancing-rattles, which were called /keriten, were made by the Qung Bushmen. Miss Lloyd translates it thus:

A woman takes off the skin [i.e. the hairy skin] of the springbok's ear; and then, she sews the inner skin of the springbok's ear, when she has laid aside the (hairy) skin of the springbok's ear; for it is the inner skin of its ear which she sews. And she sews it, and she scoops up with her hand, putting soft earth into it. And they dig, lading in earth, because they wish that the springbok ears may dry; that they may put in //kerri berries when they have taken out the earth.