Lau Nuer staff

Lau Nuer staff
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] [Upper Nile Province]
Cultural Group:
Lau Nuer
Date Made:
By 1928
Wood Plant , Iron Metal , Brass Metal , Copper Metal , Animal Hide Skin , Glass Bead , Cowrie Shell
Carved , Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Bound , Bent , Strung Tied
L = 955, shaft diam = 21 (at centre), 11.5 (at end); upper end loop W = 103, extends 143 from shaft body; metal strips W = 3 to 7; ring bead diam = 4.5, cowrie bead L = 21; metal rings W = 3, th = 1.7 mm [RTS 17/1/2005].
784.5 g
Local Name:
Other Owners:
Captured from prophet Car Koryom (a.k.a. Char Koryom or Char Koriom) of the Lau Nuer between 11th and 19th February 1928 by Percy Coriat (possibly at a place called Pading); lent to the PRM by Charles Armine Willis in November 1928 [RTS 20/7/2004].
Field Collector:
Charles Armine Willis
PRM Source:
Charles Armine Willis
Loaned November 1928
Collected Date:
Probably between 11th and 19th February 1928 [RTS 28/10/2004].
Ceremonial staff that was part of the insignia of the prophet Car Koryom, consisting of a round sectioned wooden body that tapers towards the ends that have been bent over into S- and Z-shaped curves respectively, both turning inwards towards one another on the same side of the shaft. The wood is an orangey brown colour (Pantone 4635C). The shaft body curves slightly concavely along its length, and its surface has been almost completely covered with decorative metal binding, leaving only small sections exposed. This binding has been made from a series of narrow iron, copper and brass strips, with crudely cut edges, wound tightly around the shaft in a spiral; in some cases their ends have been bent over and hammered into the wooden body to hold them in place. The beaded end of the shaft consists of strips made from brass (Pantone 872C), iron (Pantone 420C), copper (Pantone 876C), iron , brass and copper; the central part of the body is decorated with 3 sections of iron binding, and the lower part is decorated with strips of copper, iron and brass. The curling ends of the shaft have been fastened to the shaft body, using a length of plaited hide that divides into double loops at either end on the upper part, and a narrow strip of yellowish brown hide in combination with a length of twisted hide cord at the lower end (Pantone 465C), secured with knots. A series of metal rings have also been added to the looped ends, which would have produced a jangling sound when the staff was shaken; these end ties act as barriers to keep the rings in place. The upper loop has 12 brass rings in place, made from simple round or oval sectioned rods bent into a loop with their ends variously overlapping, touching, or being slightly apart. These vary in diameter. An iron ring has been fastened onto 3 of these brass examples; this is made from a rod with semicircular section, flat on its inner face, tapers to its ends, which are very slightly apart, and has a decorated outer face created by a series of oblique chisel blows across the surface. A piece of twisted hide cord with several beads threaded onto it has been doubled over the shaft and tied in place. The beads consist of a white cowrie shell with its back removed, 20 opaque white glass ring beads, and 1 white and 1 yellow glass cylindrical bead (Pantone Yellow C). The lower looped end of the staff is decorated with a brass rod, wound into a tight spiral around the body, and then 2 brass and 6 iron rings, through which an additional large brass ring has been threaded. Most are made from simple rods bent into loops, as described above; one of the larger iron rings has one flattened end, doubled over itself, and some traces of a spirally twisted body. The staff is complete, but in poor condition, with the lower end being particularly fragile where it has been repaired and restored. It has a weight of 784.5 grams, is 955 mm long with a shaft diameter of 21 mm at the centre, and 11.5 mm at the upper end. The upper end loop measures 103 mm across, and extends for 143 mm from the shaft body; the lower end loop is much less curved. The metal strips have a width ranging from 3 to 7 mm; the white ring beads have a diameter of 4.5 mm and the cowrie shell bead is 21 mm long. The loose metal rings have a typical width of 3 mm and thickness of 1.7 mm.

This staff is a type of object known to the Nuer as a
dang. It originally belonged to the Lau Nuer prophet Car Koryom. It was taken from him during his capture by the British authorities, sometime between 11th and 19th February 1928, by Percy Coriat, possibly at a place called Pading. Charles Armine Willis lent the object to the Pitt Rivers Museum in November 1928

Johnson provides further information on the career of Char Koryom and his capture in 1928 (see D.H. Johnson, 1994, Nuer Prophets, 167-169). He was known as the prophet of Deng, a non-warlike divinity. After 1917, Car Koryom dealt directly with the administrators of Mongalla province, and according to Johnson, was 'considered harmless' by the government prior to 1928. From that time, he was seen as a supporter of Guek Ngundeng, another Lou prophet who had come into conflict with the government and whom they were trying to suppress. Car Koryom surrendered to mounted troops that had been sent to his camp on 11th February 1928, and he presented himself to Percy Coriat carrying an ostrich plume fan; Johnson illustrates a photograph of Car under arrest, with his fan, in his figure 7. He escaped from custody around midnight on the 19th February, but the fan appears to have been left behind, and eventually came to the PRM later that year (see 1928.67.2). Car Koryom remained active until the middle of 1930, when he yielded to family pressure to give himself up to the authorities; he was imprisoned briefly in Malakal, then released, to return to his home where he lived until his death in 1948 (Johnson 1994; P. Coriat, 1993, Governing the Nuer, pp 119-120. See also the papers of Percy Coriot, who was involved in this brief capture, in Rhodes House, Oxford (MSS Afr.s.1684)

A staff of similar form, but without the added rings is illustrated by E.E. Evans-Pritchard in his 1956 book,
Nuer Religion , p. 236, fig. 4 (1931.66.33). The metal strips on that example differ slightly, in having a ridged centre. It is captioned as an 'instrument used in wedding invocations'. He goes on to say: 'I was told that a wife may act as master of ceremonies in her husband's place and shout out the spear-name of his clan at a wedding ... It must be a very rare occurrence for a woman to play this role. Probably she can only take the part if she is acting on behalf of the bridegroom's family and hence holds in her hand, not a spear, but the instrument called dang (Fig. 4)' (op.cit. pp 236-7). A similar form is published by Boccassino, attributed to the Dinka or Nuer (Boccassino, R., 1960, "Contributo allo studio dell'ergologia delle popolazioni Nilotiche e Nilo-Camitiche, Parte Prime: le armi", Annali Lateranensi XXIV , fig. 203a; Leipzig, Museum für Völkerkunde MAf. 1474 and 8011). Also possibly comparable with the marriage stick in the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 1983.134, which is said to have s-shaped ends and metal binding, but associated with the Shilluk.

Dang (plural deng) is a Dinka word meaning bow (D.G. Beltrame 1880, Grammatica e Vocabolario della lingua Denka, p. 190 gives definition as 'arco, schioppo, lancia). See also Schweinfurth 1873, The Heart of Africa, where dang is used to described a bow-shaped type of parry shield. The Nuer also use the word to describe a type of staff with curling ends, which may be related to this form.

This object is currently on display in the Lower Gallery, case 60A.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [Loans II, p. 279] - 1928 [insert] 67 [end insert] C. ARMINE WILLIS Esq, Governor of the Upper Nile Province, Sudan. Red Lodge, Cold Ash, Newbury, Berks. Nov. [insert] 3 [end insert] - Staff wound round with iron, brass and copper strips with both ends curled over & supporting jingling brass rings. The above [1928.67.1-3] were the insignia of a wizard of the LAU NUER tribe (called Char Koryom) & were captured from him about February, 1928. UPPER NILE PROVINCE.

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

Display History:
Current display label - SUDAN UPPER NILE PROV., LAU NUER TRIBE. CEREMONIAL STAFF OF WIZARD CHIEF, CHAR KORYOM. Lent by C.A. Willis, 1928 [case L.60.A]. Should be displayed in horizontal position only to avoid stressing join [RTS 20/7/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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