szalmuxcs (Bird Rattle)

About this object

History of use

Rattles are used in cleansing ceremonies and usually can only be used by those who "own" the rights and priviledges associated with a specific rattle. The ceremonies often mark a significant occasion or rite of passage, for example a naming ceremony, marriage, memorial potlatch, etc... Bird rattles are used by high ranking officials up and down the Northwest Coast, and may have been derived from the healing rattles used by shamans (Hawthorn 1967:79). This rattle, however, was likely made for sale.

Cultural context


Iconographic meaning

This rattle depicts an eagle. There are also bird's heads on each of the eagle's wings and a face is depicted on the body of the bird. This suggests that a supernatural relationship is being depicted. Birds in general have a prominent role in the guardian spirit complex and oral traditions of the Coast Salish; as guardian spirits eagles bestow skill at hunting and fishing.

Physical description

Rattle in the shape of an eagle with inlayed abalone shell eyes and a face carved on its underside. The wings that extend upward from the top of the body have bird's heads depicted along their proximal edges, and defined feathers. The body of the bird is incised with crescent-shaped and short straight lines. The hooked beak is also engraved with a crescent shape. The face on the underside of the bird has an open mouth with eight visible teeth, and two oval-shaped eyes which are outlined and capped with eyebrows. A faint line is visible along the lower portion of the bird where the two pieces were glued together after the pebbles were inserted. The rattle has a dark brown finish. The letter "A" is carved on top of the eagles head with an oval shape directly below it.