Nuer spear

Nuer spear
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1931
Ebony Wood Plant , Cattle Skin Animal , Animal Hide Skin , Animal Tail , Iron Metal , Brass Metal
Carved , Polished , Covered , Tooled , Socketed , Forged (Metal) Hammered Wound
Total L = 2300, diam shaft = 22.3; sheath L = 198, diam = 30; point L = 478, diam = 28.3; W rings = 2.5 mm [RTS 3/1/2005].
686.7 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 a narrow, elongated ebony point, with varicoloured dark brown (Pantone 476C) and reddish brown surface (Pantone 478C), circular in section. The base of this rests against the top of a long narrow shaft with circular section made from light reddish brown wood (Pantone 724C), with the end shaved to a point. Both shaft and point 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 stretched over the join whilst wet and then shrunken in place, with the surface lightly tooled using an implement with lentoid-shaped edge. The sheath is a dark brown colour (Pantone black 4C). The shaft has been decorated with a series of metal rods, bent around the body to form decorative bands. These include a brass rod just above the top of the sheath, wound twice around the shaft, then further below the sheath, a similar brass rod into a spiral with 5 coils, just above a shorter iron bar with square section that is wrapped once around the body, with its ends overlapping. The iron is a metallic gray (Pantone 423C), the brass a metallic yellow (Pantone 871C). All sit tightly in place and cannot be easily moved. The spear is complete and intact, but has a few paint flecks on the point, probably modern. It has a weight of 686.7 grams, is 2300 mm long, with a shaft diameter of 22.3; the point measures 478 mm from its tip to the top of the sheath, with a maximum diameter of 28.3, while the sheath is 198 mm long and has a diameter of 30 mm; the metal rings are each approximately 2.5 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, 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] - 1931.66.8 No given AP L[ENGTH]S = 2360, 2200 + 2300 mm (in no. order).

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 [= this example] RTS 23/7/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
Help | About | Bibliography