Shilluk pipe

Shilluk pipe
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
1902.17.1 .1 .2 .3
[Southern Sudan] [White Nile]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1902
Pottery , Plant Fibre , Gourd Plant , Bamboo Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Animal Tail
Handbuilt , Fire-Hardened , Socketed , Stitched , Twisted , Tied Decorated Incised Impressed Burnished Strung
L = 740, mouthpiece body diam = 51.3, neck diam = 23.3; max diam shaft = 28.2; pipe bowl rim diam = 54, body W = 72 mm, stem diam = 28.5, base W = 30 mm [RTS 23/11/2004].
508.4 g
Other Owners:
Collected by Donald Gunn in the Southern Sudan and presented to the Pitt Rivers Museum in May 1902. Museum records do not give a specific provenance for this item, but Gunn appears to have collected Shilluk material from the ‘White Nile’, ‘Upper Nile’, Ko
Field Collector:
Donald Gunn
PRM Source:
Donald Gunn
Donated May 1902
Collected Date:
By 1902
Composite tobacco pipe consisting of a gourd and hide mouthpiece [3], bamboo shaft [.2] and pottery bowl [.3], fitted together and theoretically detachable, although they are currently held together by a carrying loop. The mouthpiece is made from two parts fitted closely together. The inner part consists of a reddish orange gourd (Pantone 470C) with a narrow circular opening at the top, blackened around the edges, and a drop-shaped body. The lower part of the gourd is masked by the outer part of the mouthpiece, a casing made from a cylindrical tube of animal hide, cut from a tail section, stretched to cover the gourd bottom, and then shrunken to fit tightly over the top of the pipe shaft below. This is light greenish brown in colour (Pantone 7502C). The lower part of the gourd must be perforated to allow the smoke to pass through it. There are tool marks visible around the neck of this hide casing, where it has been pressed inwards; the surface has traces of reddish brown animal hair in parts. The interior of the mouthpiece was presumably filled with a wad of plant fibre that would be used to soak up the tobacco juice and could be chewed afterwards; it carries a strong scent of tobacco.
The pipe shaft has been made from a short length of yellow bamboo, with 4 segments visible; 3 shallow cuts have been made around the circumference along its length, the purpose of which is not clear, unless they were to remove an outer layer of bark. The surface is a deep yellowish brown colour (Pantone 7511C); this is much lighter beneath the neck of the mouthpiece. Around its lower end, it has been fitted into a cylindrical sheath made of dark brown animal hide (Pantone 440C); the surface of this is quite dry and cracked. This has been made from a rectangular strip, 66.8 mm in length, wrapped around the shaft and the joining ends sewn together using strips of flat yellow plant fibre or bast that cross over one another (Pantone 730C). 3 holes have been made in the lower part of this; these are not currently in use. A short loop of twisted plant fibre has been sewn onto the top of this stitching, and a length of twisted cream coloured hide cord passed through it (Pantone 7506C). This has been doubled over to make a carrying loop made of 4 strands. The cord has a diameter of 2 mm. At the top, these are tied to a single length of similar cord, which wraps around the neck of the mouthpiece 5 times, and then is tied off, leaving a long length hanging loose. At its base, the trailing end has been knotted, and then divided into two sections to form a tassel; each section has been threaded with opaque green glass ring beads (Pantone 341C), with 6 on one tassel, and 5 beads on the other. This cord is tied tightly enough to keep both mouthpiece and pipe bowl firmly in place.

The base of the pipe consists of a separate pottery pipe bowl, the stem of which slots inside the skin sheath. This bowl has been hand made from a moderately well levigated clay, slipped, burnished and fired a reddish brown colour with some darker patches (Pantone 476C). It has a circular mouth with narrow flattened rim and a broad flat collar edge on the outside face, then concave sides that flare down and out to a swollen lower body. A tall, concave sided knob or disc base has been set on the underside of this to serve as a pipe rest. The cylindrical pipe stem runs up from one side of the lower bowl, at an acute angle to it. The inside walls of the bowl has a series of broad, deep grooves cutting into the lower body; from here, it can be seen that the bowl and its stem were made as two separate parts and then pushed together. The lower part of the bowl interior is a light grey; it lacks the surface burning seen on most other pipes that appear to have been used. The upper walls of the bowl mouth have been smoothed, probably using added water during manufacture to form a slurry on the surface.

The exterior of the pipe bowl has been closely decorated, with a series of incised grooves dividing off different parts of the body - with horizontal grooves defining the base of the rim collar and neck and the top of the foot, and two oblique lines running down the sides to mark junction of bowl and stem. The neck has been left as a plain band, but very highly burnished; this contrasts with the rest of the surface and the very back of the neck, which have a matt, textured surface created by lines of small impressions, made using a simple pointed tool, or possibly a tool with multiple points such as a comb. These lines run randomly over the rim collar and knob base, but more vertically down the pipe stem and bowl, and give the surface the appearance of a textile. In addition, two rows of vertical dashes run down the front of the bowl.

The pipe is nearly complete, but the pottery bowl has been broken and mended, and part of the knob base has been restored. It has a total weight of 508.4 grams, and is 740 mm long. The mouthpiece has a body diameter of 51.3 mm, and a neck diameter of 23.3 mm; the pipe shaft has a maximum diameter of 28.2 mm; the pipe bowl has a rim diameter of 54 mm, and body width of 72 mm, while its stem has a diameter of 28.5 mm and its base is 30 mm across.

Collected by Donald Gunn in the Southern Sudan and presented to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1903. Museum records give only the generic provenance of ‘White Nile’ for this item; Gunn appears to have collected Shilluk material from the ‘White Nile’, ‘Upper Nile’, Kodok and Bor, Nuer material from around Lake No, Dinka material from the ‘White Nile’ and Arab material from Omdurman.

This pipe is very similar in style to 1903.2.1, a Shilluk pipe collected by Loat - with similarities including the shape and decoration of the pipe bowl; the tool marks on the bowl's interior walls; the materials used, and the style of yellow fibre stitching.

Shilluk commoners call the tobacco pipe
dak , while its royal name is labo, meaning earth or mud. Tobacco is called athabo , or omaro by royalty, signifying its colour. The Shilluk use 2 types of dak – the dangduong and the dangthen. The former is kept within the family enclosure; the latter is more commonly used in public. The two types are not structurally different. They are made up of a pipe bowl (the base is known as tyel dak ), attached to a hollow stem ( obec dak – usually made from a plant known as obec ) with a skin sheath ( apyeth dak ), and at the top, the mouthpiece is made of skin, usually cow's tail ( apyeth agwayo ), fitted around a gourd plant ( agwayo ). A filtering material ( anywön ) is put into the latter through a hole in its base; this is made from a plant known as thitho, treated in a special way that makes the fibres very soft. This is changed when it becomes thick and bitter with nicotine. A wire instrument called a godi is used to remove bad anywön . When a new filter has been put into a pipe, it is often smoked by a number of people in an event known as Käki 'dak , where the beauty of a pipe can be shown off. The pipe in question is often decorated with beads and cuttings from the tails of newly born sheep for the occasion (Source: Kunijwok Gwado Ayoker of Wolfson College, Oxford, circa 1980's, from an unpublished paper titled "Reflections on Cultural Artifacts and History: the Case of a Shilluk Pipe", pp 2-5, 11-13, figs 1, 3; a copy of this is held on file at the Pitt Rivers Museum).

Rachael Sparks 18/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [III, p. 75] - 1902 [pencil insert] 17 [end insert] DONALD GUNN Esq. 40 Dover Street, London W. May [pencil insert] 1 [end insert] - Large tobacco pipe with pottery bowl, reed stem and gourd mouthpiece. Shilluk tribe, White Nile. [...] The first two [1902.17.1-2] were collected by Mr D. Gunn himself.

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the tribes catalogue card [RTS 23/7/2004].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - SHILLUK pipe. The bowl is filled with glowing wood, + the tobacco laid on the top. The mouth-piece is filled with dry grass. Pres. by D. Gunn Esq. 1902 [rectangular metal-edged tag, tied to object; RTS 23/11/2004].

Written on object -
SHILLUK PIPE. UPPER NILE. Pres. by D. Gunn Esq. 1902 [RTS 23/11/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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