Nuer neck amulet

Nuer neck amulet
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] Wahda Lake No
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1903
Bone , Animal Hide Skin , Iron Metal
Carved , Perforated , Strung , Twisted , Tied , Hammered
L = 260 mm, diam cord = 2 mm; capsule L = 16.4 mm, W = 13.7 mm, Th = 6.2 mm; W ring = 23.8 mm, th ring = 2.8 mm; pendant L = 56.5, W = 17.8 mm, Th = 17 mm [RTS 29/6/2004].
19.1 g
Field Collector:
Donald Gunn
PRM Source:
Donald Gunn
Donated 1903
Collected Date:
By 1903
Necklet made from 4 strings of light brown twisted hide cord (Pantone 7509C). At one end, the strands have been joined just above their ends by a short band of hide wrapped and sewn together across the body, while at the other end the strands are loose. Both ends of the necklet have been fastened together at the top with a knot. The strands are largely separate until the bottom of the necklet, where they are compressed to pass through the tops of 4 small brown rectangular hide capsules that have been strung in place (Pantone 4625C). Each capsule is made from a rectangular hide strip, doubled over at the base to form a small pocket that is fastened together near the top with a single, long hide stitch, visible on the outside face. The other end of this strip has been folded over the cord and down the back of the pocket, where it is secured with one or more hide thong stitches. On two of the four capsules, the ends of this thong protrude beyond the capsule's surface. The inside of each pocket is not visible, but they are probably containers for some kind of charm, such as phrases from the Koran. The necklet has also been strung with a large iron ring made from an oval sectioned rod bent into an oval loop with ends 1 mm apart, currently a metallic grey colour (Pantone 877C). This passes through a small hole bored near the top of a large pendant, carved from yellowish bone (Pantone 7403C). This is roughly ovoid in plan view and section and tapers to either end. Although complete, and originally highly polished, the surface of the pendant is now heavily pitted and discoloured a darker brown. The object is complete, but the fibre strands of the cord are frayed in places. It has a length of 260 mm as strung; the individual cord strands have diameters of 2 mm; the capsules are of similar dimensions, with a typical example being 16.4 mm long, 13.7 mm wide and 6.2 mm thick; the iron ring 23.8 mm wide and 2.8 mm thick, while the bone pendant is 56.5 mm long, with a maximum width of 17.8 mm and thickness of 17 mm. The necklet has a weight of 19.1 grams.

Collected by Donald Gunn from Lake No in the Southern Sudan and presented to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1903. 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.

For similar type of object, but designed to be worn around the arm, see 1903.16.129, also attributed to the Nuer. For similar necklets with hide amulet capsules, see 1903.16.122-123, attributed to the Dinka.

The wearing of written charms, sewn up into leather packets, is an Arab practice, found in Egypt and the northern Sudan, and this example probably represents its spread amongst Nilotic Sudanese. Schweinfurth, for example, recorded that: "The Nubians and true Arabs ... often wear round their neck and arms a number of ornamental leather sheaths, which contain passages from the Koran; on being asked what is inside they reply, 'it is the name of god'. Such amulets are even bound round the necks of horses and valuable asses” (G. Schweinfurth, 1873,
In the Heart of Africa vol. 1, p. 142); Petrie also reported the practice amongst the Egyptian fellahim: “"Many - perhaps most - of the people wear charms, written on paper, and sewn up in leather; they are worn around the neck, on the purse or pouch, or on the top of the cap. Cattle are also sometimes protected by them" (W.M.F. Petrie, 1892, Ten Years Digging in Egypt , p. 169).

Currently on display in the Upper Gallery, case 26A.

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. 114, pencil insert] 126 [ticked] [end insert] - Nuer charm necklet with bone pendant and hide capsules, ib[idem] [LAKE NO, UPPER NILE].
Additional accession book entry [page opposite 114] - 1903.16.126 No given AP.

Card Catalogue Entry [Tribes] - UPPER NILE. LAKE NO. DINKA TRIBE. Charm necklet with bone pendant and hide capsules. d.d. D. Gunn, 1903 [filed under 'Dinka'; note the group given differs from the accession book entry and original label; there is an additional card for this object filed under 'Nuer', with no additional information].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label
- Charm necklet. NUER - Lake No, UPPER NILE. Pres. by Dr. Gunn 1903 [front], 1903.16.126 [back; circular metal-edged label, stored in RDF; RTS 19/5/2005].

Display History:
Current display label - SUDAN, LAKE NO; NUER. Neck ornament with four hide 'charm' capsules and a bone pendant on metal ring. Donated by D. Gunn. 1903.16.126 [in case U.26.A; RTS 28/6/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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