Nuer spear

Nuer spear
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1936
Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Animal Tail
Carved , Polished , Covered , Tooled , Socketed
Total L. = 2065, diam shaft = 18, L sheath = 165, diam sheath = 31, L point = 388, diam point = 29.5 mm [RTS -3/1/2005]
560.5 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 point made from a hard, dark reddish brown coloured wood (Pantone 476C), tapering out to a narrow body with round section. The base of this rests against a long narrow shaft, made from yellowish wood (Pantone 464C), also round in section and with a rounded butt. The surfaces of both have been polished. The junction between the two elements has been covered with a sheath made from a section of animal's tail, shrunken in place over the top of the shaft and the base of the point, with the surface lightly impressed using a tool with lentoid shaped leading edge. This is a dark brown colour (Pantone black 4C). The spear is complete and intact, with minor surface damage along the shaft, and a weight of 560.5 grams. It has a total length of 2065 mm, of which the point measures 388 mm to the top of the sheath and the sheath itself is 165 mm long. The point has a maximum diameter of 29.5 mm; the sheath has a maximum diameter of 31 mm, and the shaft has a diameter of 18 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).

Note that 1931.66.6-9 and 1936.10.1 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. Four of these spears have hard wood heads, probably ebony, while 1936.10.1 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 [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] 2 [end insert] - d[itt]o [ Giel ], spear of same type, pointed with hard wood, ib[idem] [NUER tribe].
Additional Accession Book Entry [p. 409] - 1936.10.2 No given AP l[ength] = 2050 mm.

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

Written on object - Giel , wood-tipped spear. NUER, E. SUDAN. d.d. E. Evans-Pritchard, 1936 [RTS -3/1/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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