Nuer neck amulet

Nuer neck amulet
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] Wahda Lake No
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1903
Animal Hide Skin , Iron Metal , Brass Metal , Lead Metal , ?Plant Nut , Wood Plant
Tied , Strung , Carved , Perforated , Moulded , Recycled Twisted Bent Forged (metal) Hammerred
Necklet L = 245, W = 10, th = 2 mm; L larger hide capsule = 42 mm; diam brass button = 21 mm; diam gray metal button = 14 mm; L buckle = 28.4 mm [RTS 2/8/2004].
96.9 g
Field Collector:
Donald Gunn
PRM Source:
Donald Gunn
Donated 1903
Collected Date:
By 1903
Necklet made from a narrow strip of dark brown animal hide (Pantone black 7C) that tapers to a point at either end. This has been fastened at the top by passing one end through a narrow slit cut into the centre of the other end, then tying this in a simple knot to secure it.

A series of objects have been strung along the hide strip as charms. These include two buttons threaded onto a piece of iron wire, that has been bent around the necklet body in a large loop with overlapping ends. The larger button with a diameter of 21 mm is made from a brass front with iron back piece and an iron machine-made loop shank coming through the centre. The front piece is a metallic yellow colour (Pantone 872C), and bears a relief moulded crescent moon and five pointed star on a lined background with a raised rim around the outside; these motifs are emblems of the Ottoman or Turkish army. The back carries a manufacturers stamp that reads "H /T.W. & W./ [?M] /PARIS". The smaller button has a diameter of 14 mm, and has been stamped from a single piece of grey metal (Pantone 430C). This is circular with a depression in the centre perforated with four equidistant holes. The back may have originally had a black enamel surface. The upper surface is decorated around the raised outer flange with moulded crosshatching set into the surface.

Next there is a larger wire loop, made from a double strand of wire bent into a circle. An oval pendant, roughly round in section, has been threaded onto this loop; this appears to be made of hardened hide or leather, folded into a bundle and pierced through the side near the top, where traces of cotton string can be seen projecting from the hole on either side. It measures 20 mm in length, is 15.5 mm wide and 14.5 mm thick, and may have been constructed around another object as a charm capsule. Also on the same loop is a circular lead seal (Pantone 423C), 19 mm in diameter and 4.5 mm thick. The flat front or back of this may have originally had an impressed design, but this is no longer clear. The seal has been pressed onto a piece of iron wire, that projects slightly from the base, and also from the top, leaving a long end that has been wound around the body of the loop to fasten it in place.

Next the necklet has been strung with a iron four-sided nut with flat base and sides, bevelled on the corners of the upper surface and with a large hole through the centre. This measures 17.5 across the length and width, and is 8.7 mm thick. A circular brass ring sits beside this, made from a rod bent into a loop with ends just touching. This ring has been strung with a bead carved from a yellowish brown piece of wood (Pantone 7510C) into a roughly trapezoidal shape with flat top, base and ends and more curving sides. This has been pierced through the centre, and the surface has traces of a darker brown material; it measures 23 by 17.5 by 155 mm.

Also on the ring is a mould-made European iron buckle, sub-rectangular in shape with rounded corners and a single horizontal bar across the centre; this has a short iron tongue looped over its body. The front of the buckle is decorated with grooved hatching around the outside edge; the surface on both sides is covered with traces of yellow enamel. The buckle is 28.4 mm long, 24.5 mm wide and 2 mm thick. The ring is also strung with a pendant made from a tree nut, 37.5 mm long, with an irregular knobbed surface, shaped like a lozenge and perforated near the top; this ranges from a yellowish brown (Pantone 730C) to a darker brown that may be surface discolouration.

Next to this is another, smaller ring, made from an iron rod with ends touching, onto which has been strung a second wooden bead similar to that described above. Beside this is a larger iron ring, the ends of which are not visible, onto which has been tied a piece of hardened hide or leather, knotted at the top corners onto the ring, and formed into a small closed capsule, probably containing another charm. This is dark brown (Pantone black 7C), and has a length of 42 mm, is 28.5 mm wide and 24.5 mm thick. There is another iron ring with a third wooden bead attached, then a hexagonal iron nut with flat underside and slightly sloping upper surface, and a large hole through the centre, measuring 17.5 across and being 9.4 mm thick. The necklet and its charms are complete and intact. It has a weight of 96.9 grams, and a length of 245 mm; the necklet band is irregular but has an average width of 10 mm and thickness of around 2 mm.

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.

This necklet probably had an amuletic function, and may represent a mix of Arab and Nilotic traditions. On the Arab side is the closed capsule, which is reminiscent of Arab Koranic charm capsules. 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); 1903.16.122, 1903.16.123, 1903.16.126 and 1903.16.129 are Dinka and Nuer examples of the adoption of this practice. On the traditional Nilotic side is the use of items that are either what Gayer-Anderson calls “Objects, pleasing, bizarre, or mysterious, which are of attractive value” or “Conventional or specific charms having a recognised reputation and value” (R. Gayer-Anderson, 1911, “Some Tribal Customs in their Relation to Medicine & Morals of the Nyam-Nyam and Gour Peoples Inhabiting The Bahr-el-Ghazal”, Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratories, Khartoum, report no. 4, volume B, p. 256). The European items, such as the iron nut, buckles and buttons, probably count as the former, while the pierced piece of wood and plant nut probably belonged to the latter category.

Some of the materials used in this necklet had a rarity value at the time that it was made. For example, In 1904, amongst the Nuer of the Pibor River area, a length of brass wire 9 foot long would be enough to purchase a goat, while brass wire 'No. 8' was popular amongst the Nuer of the Sobat and Baro rivers. Sudanese soldiers working in the Nilotic Provinces at the turn of the century had been partially paid in brass wire (A.A. Blackman, 1956,
The Material Culture of the Nilotic Tribes of East Africa, p. 8). Even as late as the 1920’s, iron remained high in value amongst the Nuer: “Nuer have always been poor in iron objects ... Iron bells ... are rare and highly prized even at the present time, and in the old days iron rings and bracelets were important pieces of property' (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940, The Nuer, p. 86).

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] 128 [end insert] - Nuer charm necklet with pendants of wood, iron nuts, buckle, etc., ib[idem] [LAKE NO, UPPER NILE].
Additional accession book entry [page opposite 114] - 1903.16.128 No. given AP [red biro] A20 F10 28.

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

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label
- Charm necklet. NUER, LAKE NO, UPPER NILE [front], Presd by Dr Gunn. 1903.16.128 [back] [circular metal-edged label, stored in RDF; RTS 19/5/2005].

Display History:
Currently on display with label - SUDAN, LAKE NO; NUER. Neck ornament, possibly used as 'magic charm' with pendants of wood, iron nuts, belt buckle etc. Donated by D. Gunn. 1903.16.128 [RTS 28/6/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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