Nuer fishing spear

Nuer fishing spear
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
1936.10.6 .1 .2
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1936
Iron Metal , Wood Plant
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Socketed , Carved , Polished
Total L = 2197, L shaft = 1872, diam shaft = 22, point L = 396, diam point = 5 mm, diam. socket = 22.8, W upper body = 10.5 by 9.8 mm [RTS 3/1/2005].
509.5 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
Fishing spear consisting of an iron spearhead on a wooden haft, currently detachable. The spearhead, 1936.10.6.1, has a plain, round sectioned point that is damaged at its tip, widening into a narrow elongated body with rectangular section. This has been worked down the sides to create a series of barbed and roughened surfaces. The top third of this area has been chiselled into a series of jagged, downward pointing barbs along one side of the upper surface, and the opposite edge of the underside. The other edges have been more lightly worked with shallow oblique incisions cut in the opposing direction. The central part of the point is more plain, with these lightly incised cuts continuing down the sides, and the opposite edges left plain, while the last section has a series of more densely spaced cuts made into each edge, roughening the surface. Below this, the body turns into a socketed base that expands towards is lower edge, with an open seam running up one side; the surface is covered with a series of fine tool marks, perhaps from using a file. The spearhead is complete, and a dark, non-reflective gray colour (Pantone 425C). This has been fitted onto a wooden haft with oval section, cut from a branch with numerous knots down its length where side branches have been trimmed off, and a slightly irregular body. The upper end has been shaved to a point, while the base has been cut flat; the surface has been polished. The shaft is complete; a broad groove has been cut around half the circumference near the upper part, and there are some shallow, narrow cuts around the body below whose function is also unclear. It is a yellowish to orange brown colour throughout (Pantone 730C). The spear has a weight of 509.5 grams, and has a total length of 2197 mm. The shaft itself is 1872 mm long, with a maximum diameter of 22.5 mm; the spearhead is 396 mm long, with a point diameter of 5 mm, an upper body width of 10.5 and thickness of 9.8, and a socket width of 22.8 mm.

Collected by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard in either 1935 or 1936, when Evans-Pritchard held a research fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust (see E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940,
The Nuer ). While he does not give the Nuer name for this type of object, we are told that the iron spearhead was 'native made', rather than a European import (unlike 1936.10.7).

Evans-Pritchard describes the Nuer use of fish to supplement to their diet, including various methods of catching them (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940,
The Nuer, pp 70-72, pls IX-X, and XXIIa-b). Another source from the same period gives the Lak Nuer term for a fishing spear as bith , which is the same term as that used by the Dinka (Nebel 1979, Dinka-English Dictionary, p. 16); these are said to have been of universally high value amongst different Nuer groups, who always made the points out of iron, as other materials were difficult to haft successfully on an object that would frequently get wet (P.P. Howell, 1947, "On the Value of Iron Among the Nuer", Man 47, p. 133). For photographs of the Dinka using this type of spear, see J. Ryle, 1982, Warriors of the White Nile: The Dinka, pp 106-109.

For fishing spears of similar design, see 1936.10.7 (slightly different barbs, Nuer), 1942.8.61 (unattributed), 1961.9.8 (Shilluk) and 1979.20.109 (Dinka Tuich).

This object is currently on display in the Upper Gallery, case 26A.

Rachael Sparks 29/8/2005.

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] 6 [end insert] - Fish-spear with native-made, long, multi barbed point of iron, NUER.
Additional Accession Book Entry [p. 409] 1936.10.6 No given AP l[ength] = 2350 mm.

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

Written on object - Fish-spear with native-made iron head. NUER, E. SUDAN. d.d. E. Evans-Pritchard, 1936 [RTS 13/1/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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