Nuer spear

Nuer spear
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1936
Ebony Wood Plant , Wood Plant , Animal Tail
Carved , Polished , Covered , Tooled , Socketed , Stained Decorated
Total L = 2239; point L to top sheath = 518; inner sheath L = 185, outer sheath L = 140; spearhead diam = 26 x 25; sheath max diam = 30.7; shaft diam = 21.3 x 20.8 mm [RTS 12/7/2005].
702.2 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 an narrow ebony point with a polished, varicoloured dark reddish brown (Pantone 469C) and dark brown surface (Pantone Black 4C). The base of this rests against a long narrow generally round sectioned shaft that tapers to the butt end, made from wood that has been stained an orangey brown colour (Pantone 730C) and highly polished. The junction between the two elements has been covered with a double sheath made from cut sections of an animal tail, shrunken in place over the top of the shaft and the base of the point. The inner sheath is dark brown and extends further up the base of the point (Pantone 7533C). It is very worn, but has traces of rows of lightly impressed marks running around the circumference, made using a tool with lentoid-shaped leading edge. A second sheath has been fitted on top of this, in a lighter orangey brown hide (Pantone 729C). This has similar decoration, which has also worn off in some areas. The spear is complete, but has some insect damage near the shaft butt; it has a weight of 702.2 grams. It has a total length of 2239 mm, of which the point measures 518 mm to the top of the sheath, while the inner sheath is 185 mm long, and the outer sheath has a length of 140 mm. The point has a maximum diameter of 26 by 25 mm; the sheath has a maximum diameter of 30.7 mm, and the shaft has a diameter of 21.3 by 20.8 mm.

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).

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] 3 [end insert] - d[itt]o [ Giel ], similar to the last [spear... pointed with hard wood], ib[idem] [NUER tribe].
Additional Accession Book Entry [p. 409] -
1930.10.3 No given AP.

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

Pitt Rivers Museum label - AFRICA, Sudan. Nuer tribe. Spear with ebony head. d.d. E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1936.10.3 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 12/7/2005].

Written on object - Giel , wood-tipped spear, NUER, E. SUDAN. d.d. E. Evans-Pritchard, 1936 [RTS 12/7/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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