Nuer headrest

Nuer headrest
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1917
Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin
Carved , Polished , Perforated , Twisted , Knotted
Ht = 135, seat L = 191, W = 98, th = 8; pedestal W = 45, th = 30, diam holes = 7; base L = 122, W = 118.7, th = 14.5; loop L = 93, W = 5.3, th = 5; W strands = 3.5 mm [RTS 11/4/2005].
306.8 g
Other Owners:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson, probably collected in the period immediately before World War I (1909-1914) [RTS 1/6/2004].
Field Collector:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson
PRM Source:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson
Donated 1917
Collected Date:
By 1917
Headrest carved from a single piece of orangey brown wood (Pantone 730C), consisting of a short seat at the top that is bilobed in plan view - that is, strongly concave down the long sides, and convex at either end. This is almost flat across the width, curving down slightly at the edges, and strongly concave along its length. The upper surface seems to have some kind of flaw in the wood that has perhaps begun to wear away, leaving an irregular area where the surface is uneven near the centre. The underside of the seat has been carved to have a narrow raised rib running down the centre of the length, that links up to a solid pedestal foot with a strongly lozenge-shaped section, that meets with an everted disc base with solid, flat underside. A circular hole has been bored through the pedestal at top and bottom, and a carrying loop fastened through these. The upper end has been secured with a knot, while the lower end is still located in the hole, but has no corresponding knot to keep it in place, perhaps because this has broken off. The loop itself has been made from 2 narrow strips or cords of hide, twisted together; these are currently a dull brown colour (Pantone 730C). The headrest is complete, apart from the damage mentioned above; there are patches of polish across the centre particular on the seat ribbing, and around the edges of the seat, pedestal and its foot. It is intact and has a weight of 306.8 grams. The headrest is 135 mm high; the seat is 191 mm long, 98 mm wide and 8 mm thick; the pedestal is 45 mm wide and 30 mm thick, while the holes through it have a diameter of 7 mm; the everted foot base is 122 mm long, 118.7 mm wide and 14.5 mm thick. The carrying loop is 93 mm long, 5.3 mm wide and 5 mm thick; each component strand is 3.5 mm wide.

Collected by Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson, probably in the period immediately before World War I, from 1909 to 1914.

This headrest was said to have come from the Sudan-Abyssinian frontier, and was attributed to the Nuer. This suggests that it may have come from one of the eastern Nuer groups close to the modern Ethiopian border, such as the Eastern Jikany. Bilobed seats are also found on headrests from the Southern Larim (e.g.: 1979.20.173) and Toposa (1979.20,201).

Rachael Sparks 23/08/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [VI, p. 54] - 1917 [pencil insert] 25 [end insert] MAJOR R.G. GAYER-ANDERSON , R.A.M.C. The Lodge, Old Marston, Oxon [pencil insert, p. 55] 38-41 [end insert] - [1 of] 4 wooden head-rests, Nuer tribe, Sudan-Abyssinian frontier.
Additional Accession Book Entry
[page opposite 54] - A gift to the Pitt Rivers Museum in memory of Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson, Pasha, his twin brother Colonel J.G. Gayer-Anderson, C.M.G., D.S.O.

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

Related Documents File - Two letters dated 30/03/1917 and 13/04/1917 from the donor to Henry Balfour regarding the donation of the collection to the museum [EB 12/11/2001]. These indicate that the material was collected by Robert Gayer-Anderson himself, chiefly from the areas of Nuba, Kordofan and Bahr el Ghazal during 5 years he spent in the Sudan, and that they were given to the museum as an unconditional gift [RTS 5/12/2003]. The note in the accession book calling this gift 'in memory of' R.G. Gayer-Anderson is therefore somewhat enigmatic, as both Robert and his twin brother (Thomas G., not J.G.) were alive at the time of the transfer [RTS 5/12/2003].

Pitt Rivers Museum label - NUER head-rest, SUDAN-ABYSSINIAN frontier. Pres. by Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson, 1917 [rectangular metal-edged tag, tied to object; RTS 9/4/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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