Nuer staff

Nuer staff
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1931
Wood Plant , Iron Metal , Brass Metal , Metal Wire
Carved , Bent , Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Bound , Drawn
L = 995, diam shaft = 20.5, diam ends = 7.5, end loops W across = 67, extend 130 mm from shaft body; wire diam = 1, strip W = 8 mm [RTS 15/12/2004].
642.7 g
Local Name:
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
Ceremonial staff, made from a long piece of light orangey brown wood with circular section (Pantone 728C), probably shaped from a tree branch, that tapers towards the ends, which have been bent into S and Z-shaped curves, both turning inwards towards one another on the same side of the object. The body has a very slightly concave curve along its back, and has been covered with decorative metal binding. This is made from a series of alternating iron and brass strips, similarly shaped with a narrow body and a crease that runs down the centre of their length, and tapering slightly to either end. Each strip has been bound around the staff shaft, with their tips bent over and hammered into the wood below to hold them in place. The end loops of the staff has been tightly bound with thin brass wire; this looks to have been mechanically drawn as it appears very regular in shape. A further piece of wire has been used as a strut running between the end loop and staff body, looped over the shaft body at either end, and then wound in a tight spiral around its own body to make it firm. The staff is complete, but has been repaired near one end. It has a weight of 642.7 grams, is 995 mm long, has a shaft diameter of 20.5 mm and an end diameter of 7.5 mm; the end loops measure 67 mm across, and extend for 130 mm from the shaft body. The brass wire has a diameter of 1 mm and the metal strips are 8 mm wide.

This object was collected by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard during his first or second seasons of fieldwork amongst the Nuer, e.g.: in February to April 1930 or between February and June of 1931, in 'the dry season'. 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) (pers. comm. Chris Morton 2004).

This staff is known as a
dang (plural deng), which is also a Dinka word that means ‘bow’ (D.G. Beltrame 1880, Grammatica e Vocabolario della lingua Denka, p . 190 gives definition as 'arco, schioppo, lancia). It seems to have originated as a type of parry shield - see G. Schweinfurth, 1873, The Heart of Africa Volume 1, p 155-156 and also the iron-bound example published by Boccassino with sinew stretched between the ends, which is attributed to the Dinka or Nuer (R. Boccassino, 1960, "Contributo allo studio dell'ergologia delle popolazioni Nilotiche e Nilo-Camitiche, Parte Prime: le armi", Annali Lateranensi XXIV, fig. 203a; Museum für Vökerkunde, Leipzig, MAf.474 and 8011). This form seems to have been adopted by the Nuer, retaining the same name, but being used as status emblems by prophets and for particular ceremonies. This particular example was used the latter, which Evans-Pritchard describes as follows: “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 ” (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1956, Nuer Religion , pp 236-7). This object is similar to the dang captured from the Lau Nuer prophet Char Koryom (1928.67.3), and may also be 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, and which is associated with the Shilluk.

Published in E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1956,
Nuer Religion , p. 236, fig. 4.

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

Rachael Sparks 18/9/2005.

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. 20] 33 [end insert] - Wedding-staff of wood, bound round all over with bands of brass and iron; the ends curved into scrolls (like shepherds’ crooks) and served with brass wire, NUER.
Additional Accession Book Entry [P. 19] - 1931.66.33 No given AP [drawing] l[ength] = 1000 mm w[idth] of crook = 120 mm.

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

Publication History:
Published in E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1956, Nuer Religion, p. 236, fig. 4.

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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