Nuer spear

Nuer spear
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1931
Wood Plant , Antelope Horn Animal , Animal Tail , Animal Hide Skin , Iron Metal
Carved , Polished , Covered , Tooled , Socketed , Forged (Metal) Hammered
Total L = 2395, diam shaft = 24; sheath L = 220, diam = 39.2; point L = 432, diam = 34.8; band W = 20, diam with ring = 38.3; W rings = 3.6 mm [RTS 3/1/2005].
803.1 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, straight point made from dark brown antelope horn with a naturally ridged surface and oval section (Pantone black 4C). The base of this rests against the top of a long narrow shaft of reddish brown wood (Pantone 7517C), more round in section, and slightly bent towards its tapering lower end. Both parts have been polished. The junction between them is covered with a cylindrical sheath, cut from a section of animal's tail with the hair removed; this was stretched over the body whilst wet and then shrunken in place, with the surface lightly tooled in rows around the circumference, leaving faint angled lentoid-shaped impressions. The sheath is a dark brown colour (Pantone black 4C), and has a couple of shallow cuts across its surface. The base of the point, just above this sheath, is decorated with a broad flat iron band, bent into a loop around the body with the ends 18 mm apart. One end has been turned slightly into the wood to secure it; there are traces of a resinous material at this point which may have been added for the same reason. There are 2 iron rings over the sheath itself, at the top of the shaft, currently a metallic gray colour (Pantone 421C). The first of these has been made from an oval sectioned rod, bent around the shaft with its ends 5 mm apart. This is fixed firmly in place. Just below is a second ring, which is loose; this has been made from a rectangular sectioned iron bar, bent into a loop with its ends 3 mm apart, and with the lower edge chiselled to create a series of projecting barbs, similar to those seen on Nuer fighting bracelets, although this ring is much smaller in scale. The spear is complete and intact, and has a weight of 803.1 grams. It is 2395 mm long, with a shaft diameter of 24 mm. The point measures 432 from its tip to the top of the sheath and has a diameter of 34.8 mm, while the sheath itself is 220 mm long, with a diameter of 39.2 mm. The metal rings are approximately 3.6 mm wide each.

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).

For other Nuer spears with horn points, see 1936.10.1. Spears tipped with straight, or straightened animal horn are also used by the Shilluk (see 1919.13.17-18 and 1929.58.1), Dinka (1913.15.5) and Mandari (1973.16.2), usually using materials such as antelope or onyx.
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, while this example 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] 1936.66.9 No given AP l[ength] = 2400 mm.

Card Catalogue Entry [tribes] - Information as above, with annotation: & metal ring [RTS 23/7/2004].

Written on object - Horn-pointed spear, collected from the NUER tribe, E. SUDAN, by E. Evans-Pritchard, & pres. by him, 1931 [RTS 12/1/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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