Shilluk arm ornament

Shilluk arm ornament
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] [Upper Nile]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1903
Elephant Tooth Ivory Animal , Giraffe Hair Animal , Animal Hide Skin , String
Carved , Polished , Perforated , Drilled , Repaired (local) , Twisted Tied
Ht = 62, L = 121.3, W = 108 mm; inner L = 92, inner W = 78 mm; W rim = 17 mm; diam holes = 4 mm, diam depressions = 1.5 to 1 mm [RTS 3/11/2004].
405.5 g
Other Owners:
Collected by Donald Gunn in the Southern Sudan and presented to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1903. 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’, Kodok
Field Collector:
Donald Gunn
PRM Source:
Donald Gunn
Donated 1903
Collected Date:
By 1903
Heavy penannular arm ornament carved from a single piece of yellowish to yellowish cream elephant ivory (Pantone 1345C to 7401C). This is oval in plan view, and consists of a narrow flat upper surface, and a flat inner surface where the object would rest against the owner's arm. The outer surface has a corrugated profile with concave sides above and below a broad, rounded, raised rib that runs around the middle of the circumference. The surfaces have been polished; this polish is particularly marked around the inside edges, where it may be the result of use-wear. The armlet appears to have either broken or been cut down on the sides, in two places around the circumference, not quite opposite each other, to create two joining parts. On one side, two pairs of holes have been bored through the upper and lower edges of this break, and threaded with lengths of black giraffe hair, wound horizontally across the join several times to bind each pair of holes together. On the inside face of the armlet, this hair has faded to a paler colour. On the other side, there are similar sets of holes, this time bound with twisted hide string, plus an additional hole that may be a manufacturing error. These joins have sprung slightly apart and the two pieces no longer align perfectly. There is some kind of vegetative matter filling the crack between the parts on this side. While these bindings could be simple mends, both breaks are rather vertical and straight and may be deliberate cuts, introduced to make the armlet easier to fit onto the owner. However a third area of binding looks more clearly like a local repair. This occurs near the top of the armlet, where a crack can be seen developing vertically down the side, but which has not yet reached the base of the object. A pair of holes has been bored across the top of this crack, and a length of hide string tied through it. Further 'repairs' may be evident in a series of shallow circular depressions that have been bored in rows along some surface cracks - there are two such rows on the underside, one very short and one long on the upper surface, and a more enigmatic cluster of depressions around the latter that do not seem to be associated with splits. Similar depressions are found on other objects in the museum, such as 1979.20.122, from the Dinka Tuich, amongst whom this technique is thought to prevent the object breaking, or on 1925.62.1, a possibly Nuer object, where it may be more decorative in intent. The object is complete, with numerous cracks across the surface, particularly on the inside face where the surface is slightly damaged in some areas. It measures 121.3 by 108 mm across its outer edges, and 92 by 78 mm across its inside edges, with a rim thickness of 17 mm, a height of 62 mm and a weight of 405.5 grams. The mend holes have diameters of 4 mm, while the bored depressions measure from 1.5 to 1 mm in diameter.

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 ‘Upper 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.

A similar arm ornament is illustrated in A. Fisher, 1984,
Africa Adorned, p. 64 no. 5, where it is given the rather generic provenance of 'Upper Nile'. Domville Fife suggested that amongst the Shilluk ivory armlets were worn by men who had speared an elephant, a lion or a leopard (C.W. Domville Fife, 1927, Savage Life in the Black Sudan, p. 82).

Currently on display in the Court, case 111B.

Rachael Sparks 18/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [III, p. 110] - 1903 [pencil insert] 16 [end insert] DR D. GUNN Esq., M.B. 40 Dover Street, London, W. June. [...] [p. 113] - The following from the Shilluk tribe, Upper Nile. viz: [pencil insert] 106-107 [end insert] - [One of] 2 elephant ivory armlets.

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

Written on object - SHILLUK, UPPER NILE. Pres. by Dr D. Gunn, 1903 [RTS 2/11/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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