Nuer spear

Nuer spear
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Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1936
Antelope Horn Animal , Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Animal Tail , Brass Metal , Iron Metal
Carved , Polished , Socketed , Covered , Forged (Metal) , Hammered Recycled
Total L = 2130, diam shaft = 19.5; sheath L = 177, diam = 31.7; point L = 293, diam = 26.5; band W = 20, rings W = 2.5 mm [RTS 3/1/2005].
524.9 g
Local Name:
Other Owners:
This object was probably collected in 1935 or 1936, when Evans-Pritchard held a research fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust (see E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940, The Nuer) [RTS 28/9/2004].
Field Collector:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
PRM Source:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
Donated 1936
Collected Date:
1935 - 1936
Spear consisting of a narrow straight point made from dark brown antelope horn (Pantone 440C), only faintly ridged, with a slightly oval section. The base of this rests against the top of a long narrow shaft of reddish to yellowish brown wood (Pantone 730C), also slightly oval in section, cut from a natural branch with the outer bark removed. This has a slightly irregular form, with a series of knots running down its length; it has been shaved to a point at the butt. Both point and haft have been polished, and the junction between them 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 around its lower part, although less noticeably than on other Nuer spears of this type. The sheath is a dark brown colour (Pantone 440C), and has a series of shallow cuts across its surface. Part of a recycled brass cartridge case has been fitted over the point (Pantone 871C), resting about halfway down the exposed part of its body, while an iron rod has been bent into a spiral around the shaft just below the base of the sheath. This is oval in section, and currently a metallic gray colour (Pantone 420C). Finally, a tassel made from a segment of animal tail with long black hair has been fitted above the base of the spear haft (Pantone black 7C). The spear is complete, with a few paint flecks on the point that may be modern. It has a weight of 524.9 grams, and is 2130 mm long with a shaft diameter of 19.5 mm; the point measures 293 mm from its tip to the top of the sheath, and has a diameter of 26.5 mm; the sheath below is 177 mm long and 31.7 mm in diameter, while the brass band is 20 mm wide, and the iron rod has a width of 2.5 mm.

This object was collected by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard when he held a research fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust (see E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940,
The Nuer ), either during May to July 1935, when he worked amongst the Nuer Lou and Eastern Jikany, or from October to November 1936, when he was working amongst the Karlual section of the Nuer Leek, in Western Nuerland (pers. comm. Chris Morton 2004).

This spear is known by the Nuer term

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 1931.66.9. 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.
The wooden shaft of this example has been cut from a rather knotty branch; compare this to the smooth and regular wood used for Nuer spears 1931.66.6-9 and 1936.10.2.

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

Rachael Sparks 18/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 410] - 1936 [insert] 10 [end insert] E. EVANS-PRITCHARD, M.A., Exeter College, Oxford. - Specimens collected by himself in the EASTERN SUDAN, while travelling with a Grant from the Rockefeller Leverhulme Trustees, viz: [insert] 1 [end insert] - Giel , spear, pointed with antelope’s horn, NUER tribe.
Additional Accession Book Entry [p. 409] - 1936.10.1 No given AP l[ength] = 2120 mm.

Card Catalogue Entry [tribes] - Information as in the accession book entry, with added note: Metal ring around head. Hair dec. at butt [RTS 23/7/2004].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - 92/92 [obverse] C [reverse; small jeweller's tag, tied to object; RTS 12/1/2005].

Written on object -
Giel , horn-tipped spear. NUER, E. SUDAN, d.d. E. Evans-Pritchard, 1936 [RTS 12/1/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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