Nuer spear

Nuer spear
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1931
Ebony Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Animal Hair , Animal Tail
Carved , Polished , Covered , Socketed , Tooled
L = 2368, diam shaft = 21.6, sheath L = 130, diam = 31, point L = 645, diam = 29.5 mm [RTS 10/1/2005]
748.2 g
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
Spear consisting of an narrow, elongated ebony point, with varicoloured dark brown (Pantone 4625C) and reddish brown surface (Pantone 7526C), roughly circular in section. The base of this rests against the top of a long, narrow shaft made from reddish brown wood (Pantone 470C), slightly oval in section. This tapers to a pointed butt. Both wooden parts have been polished. The junction between the two has been covered with a cylindrical sheath, cut from a section of animal's tail with the hair removed; this was shrunken in place over the base of the point and top of the shaft to keep these parts together, and the surface lightly tooled using at least 2 types of implement, one producing a lentoid shaped mark, the other with a much smaller leading edge that has produced a finer, rope-like design that may be intended to be decorative. The sheath is a dark brown colour (Pantone 412C), and is complete except for a lentoid-shaped cut in the surface. At the base of the spear, a cut section of animal tail with long dark brown hair has been fitted over the shaft as a decorative tassel (Pantone black 6C). The spear is complete and intact, with some possibly modern paint flecks on the shaft. It has a weight of 748.2 grams and a total length of 2368 mm, of which the point measures 645 mm to the top of the sheath, and the sheath itself is 130 mm long and 31 mm in diameter. The point has a maximum diameter of 29.5 mm, while the shaft is 21.6 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).

Evans-Pritchard, writing in 1940, said of the Nuer: '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 ...’ (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940,
The Nuer, p. 86). Howell gives the Nuer term for these spears as giit, while the iron headed spears were known as mur. He states that the giit were regarded 'with considerable amusement' by younger Nuer, but that a few were retained as they were 'considered particularly effective in war, and the Nuer hope they may one day be able to use them ... although it required greater skill and strength to inflict a wound with a giit, the wounds once inflicted are more severe'. He goes on to describe the method of hafting them: 'The giit ... is fixed at the joint with an unsewn leather collar made from the tail skin of an ox. This is soaked and stretched round the haft, where it shrinks as it dries'. (P.P. Howell, 1947, "On the Value of Iron Among the Nuer", Man 47, p. 132-3).

Note that 1931.66.6-9 and 1936.10.2 are all made in a very similar fashion, with shafts carved from the same type of wood, which has a very distinctive grain to it. 4 of these spears have hard wood heads (in this case, probably ebony) and 1 has a head of straightened antelope horn.

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. [insert, in pencil] 6-9 [end insert] - [1 of] 4 spears with tapering wooden shafts, three have long pointed hardwood heads & the other a similar head of antelope’s horn. The heads are fastened with a collar of hide cut from an animals tail. Obtained from the NUER tribe, but the type is probably derived from the SHILLUK of the WHITE NILE.
Additional Accession Book Entry [p. 15] - L[ENGTH]S = 2360, 2200 + 2300 mm (in no. order). 1931.66.6 + 7 No given AP These have hair decorations at the butt end.

Card Catalogue Entry [tribes] - information as in the accession book entry, with annotation: 2 with hair dec. & 1 with metal rings on staff end at base of head [RTS 23/7/2004].

Written on object - Wood-pointed spear, collected from the NUER tribe, E. SUDAN, by E. Evans-Pritchard & pres. by him 1931 [RTS 3/1/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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