Nuer cattle bell

Nuer cattle bell
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1931
Iron Metal
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Bent , Perforated , Notched , Decorated
Total L = 120; bell L = 62, W top = 90.7, mouth W = 51, depth = 47.8; th walls = 1.5; clapper base W = 9, th = 6.5; suspension ring diam = 72.5, W = 4.8, th = 5.5 mm [RTS 5/9/2005].
Other Owners:
Collected by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard either in the early part of 1930 (probably February to April), or between February and June of 1931 [CM; RTS 9/7/2004].
Field Collector:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
PRM Source:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
Donated December 1931
Collected Date:
1930 - 1931
Iron bell consisting of a broad body, formed from a rectangular sheet of iron, folded double over the top, then the sides pressed together and hammered shut with applied heat to close them. These sides have been flattened, but the central part of the body has been pulled open to create a hollow almost cylindrical interior that is lentoid in plan view. The upper part of the body has been perforated with 2 small holes, punched through from one side of the bell, and fitted with a large iron suspension loop made from a rod hammered into a circle with touching ends. A smaller ring hangs from the base of this, inside the bell, and this in its turn provides a seat for the clapper. This has been made from a thick piece of iron, with tapered top that has been hooked over the small loop and pushed back against the clapper body; it has an almost rectangular section, with the corners 'shaved' and the end cut at an angle. The clapper hangs slightly below the lip of the bell, and has been decorated on front and back with a similar design, made of a row of chiselled notches down one edge, and a short row of punched dots down the other. The bell is complete; there is some cracking at the mouth, that may have been caused during its manufacture; the surface is currently a dark reddish brown colour, due to rust (Pantone Black 4C). It has a weight of 253.4 grams and a total length of 120 mm. The bell body is 62 mm long, 90.7 mm wide across the top, and 51 mm wide and 47.8 mm deep across the mouth; the walls are 1.5 mm thick. The clapper has a width of 9 mm and thickness of 6.5 mm across its base, while the suspension ring has a diameter of 72.5 mm and is 4.8 mm wide and 5.5 mm thick.

Collected by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard during his first or second season of fieldwork amongst the Nuer, from February to April 1930, or in 'the dry season' between February and June 1931. In the former, he spent around three and a half months in Leek territory at Yahnyang and Pakur on the Bahr el Ghazal, in Lou territory at Muot Dit, and at Adok, amongst the Dok Nuer. In the latter, he spent five and a half months at Nasir, on the Nyanding River, and at Yakwat on the Sobat River (see E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940, The Nuer, and the map of Evans-Pritchard's fieldwork in D.H. Johnson, "Evans-Pritchard, the Nuer, and the Sudan Political Service", African Affairs 81 no. 323, p. 233).

This bell was used to decorate the necks of bulls or oxen.
Similar bells were also used to decorate Dinka cattle (see 1934.8.14 and 1979.20.103). They also appear in other cultures, such as the Ganda and Acholi of Uganda (M. Trowell & K.P. Wachsmann, 1953, Tribal Crafts of Uganda, pl. 77I; p. 327).

Evans-Pritchard, writing in 1940, commented on the scarcity of iron amongst the Nuer and the high value consequently placed on objects made from it: 'Nuer have always been poor in iron objects. Till recently they possessed very few iron spears, cherished as heirlooms, but used instead the straightened horns of antelope and buck, ebony wood, and the rib-bones of giraffe, all of which are still used to-day, though almost entirely in dances ... 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).

Rachael Sparks & Chris Morton 19/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [IX, p. 16] 1931 [insert, in pencil] 66 [end insert] E. EVANS-PRITCHARD , Esq. Dec. Specimens collected by himself in the EASTERN SUDAN, viz. [pencil insert, p. 18] 28 [end insert] - Iron cattle-bell, with iron clapper, NUER.

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

Pitt Rivers Museum label - Iron cattle-bell. NUER, E. SUDAN. d.d. E. Evans Pritchard 1931 [rectangular metal-edged label, tied to object; RTS 5/9/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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