How to Make a Native American Turtle Rattle

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Traditional Native American rattles use turtle shells as shakers.
Traditional Native American rattles use turtle shells as shakers. (Image: Jeffrey Hamilton/Lifesize/Getty Images)

In traditional Native American culture, very few things went to waste. When Native Americans brought home game for food, they broke down the animal and used its parts for such things as clothes and jewelry. Turtle shell rattles are an example of Native American ingenuity. After consuming the meat, Native Americans, especially the Navajo, dried the shells for use as ceremonial rattles. These rattles were utilized during traditional dances and tribal ceremonies. You can create your own turtle shell rattle to celebrate your love of Native American traditions or your own Native American heritage.

Things You'll Need

  • 1/2-inch diameter dowel rod
  • 6-inch-long turtle shell
  • Leather strips
  • Wood glue
  • Hot glue
  • Self-hardening clay
  • Dried lentils
  • Tempera paints
  • Paintbrush
  • Faux sinew twine
  • Beads
  • Shells
  • Feathers

Slide the dowel rod into the back of the turtle shell until it bumps into the neck hole at the front of the shell. Hold the dowel in place and draw a line where it lies at the back of the shell.

Smear a little wood glue onto the dowel just below your pencil mark. Wrap a piece of leather stripping around the dowel and add a more glue. Wrap the leather once more, and repeat the process. Continue this way until the dowel rod is covered in leather. Let the glue dry overnight.

Slide the bare end of the dowel rod back into the turtle shell. Squeeze a bead of hot glue onto the turtle shell just under the lip of the shell where it touches the dowel rod. Do the same just inside the shell at the neck hole. Let the glue dry for at least 10 minutes.

Spread self-hardening clay over the back hole of the shell, pressing it firmly around the dowel. Let the clay harden overnight.

Fill the shell about half-full of dried lentils, pouring them through the neck hole. Cover the neck hole with self-hardening clay. Let the clay harden overnight.

Paint both patches of clay to match the turtle shell. Olive green mixed with a little black should do the trick. You may also match the clay to the color of the shell’s belly. Let the paint dry overnight.

String beads, feathers and shells onto the faux sinew. Wrap the sinew around your rattle handle where the shell and the handle meet. Tie the sinew tightly to secure it.

References

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