Musical instruments in Baskeet: Rattles

In Baskeet, a variety of instruments are exclusively used during mourning ceremonies but never played at weddings or other happy occasions, among them are different types of wooden and horn trumpets (see the post on the nookka-trumpet here) and two types of idiophones: rattles and bells. Today’s post introduces the Baskeet rattles to you.

The rattles are called kora. The kora is made up of an even number of metal objects (in the shape of shells) strung on two parallel leather cords that are knotted together as seen on the picture below.

Baskeet rattles

Baskeet rattles

The metal shells are not fully closed and through the open slot the small metal ball inserted into each shell during the production process is visible:

Baskeet rattle (detail)

Baskeet rattle (detail)

The rattles were forged by Baskeet local smiths (of the clan of the k’ottsi man) from iron that was imported from the neighbouring Dime people. The Dime smelted iron before the arrival of the industrially produced metal in South Ethiopia.* (I can’t say whether rattles are still forged in Baskeet today. If yes, I would suspect that nowadays scrap iron rather than Dime iron is used.) As important ritual objects, the rattles are safely kept at home. A Baskeet compound is made up of several small houses; the house in which the rattles and other valued objects are kept and in which visitors are received is called the kor keetts “rattle house”.

The rattles are only held by men during the mourning ceremonies that follow the burial of a deceased. As far as I know, only men related to the deceased (by blood or marriage) take rattles to the mourning ceremonies. The rattles do not accompany any mourning songs; but, together with the bells rang by the women, they create the soundscape for the expression of condolences during the mourning ceremony: Soundscape. <– Click on this link to listen. On the record you hear people crying and the sound of bells and rattles.

The following short video taken (with a small digital photo camera) during a mourning ceremony in Mandit (Basketo Special Woreda) illustrates the use of rattles. A group of mourners has arrived in the compound of a family who has buried their father the day before. After they have offered their condolences to the male relatives of the deceased, they are now approaching the deceased’s female relatives. Two of the men in front hold rattles in their hand and shake them while they express their condolences to the women (some of the women ring bells). While condolences are exchanged, people squat on the ground. The arriving mourners present their open hands and express their grief. Then they and the relatives touch their temples twice (once on each side):

More on the bells played by the women during mourning ceremonies in one of my next posts.

Comments welcome

I’d be interested to know how widespread rattles are in mourning ceremonies elsewhere in Ethiopia and how they are called in the individual languages. Some time ago I came across the entry koraankoreettii ‘death rattle’ in Gragg’s Oromo Dictionary but I haven’t found much other information yet.


I am very grateful to T’iyitu Tadesse for offering a set of original Baskeet rattles to me as a present. He had come across them one day on the Laska market. (Converts to Protestantism take their rattles to the market to sell them.) T’iyitu also took me to the mourning ceremony in Miizgawa where the sound recording presented above was made in March 2009. Tamiru Admasu took me to the mourning ceremony in Mandit in November 2011 where the above video was made.
* If you are interested in traditional iron production in Ethiopia, have a look at this article and the references found therein.
© 2011-2 Baskettoethiopia All Rights Reserved
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7 Responses to Musical instruments in Baskeet: Rattles

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