Nuer toy figure

Nuer toy figure
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Made by boys.
Date Made:
By 1936
Clay , Plant Fibre , Ochre , Pigment
Modelled , Pinched , Dried , Painted , Decorated
Ht = 86, L = 95, W = 32.3 mm [RTS 5/10/2004].
185.9 g
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
Toy cow figure, hand made from a well levigated gray clay with occasional white inclusions and dried in the sun (Pantone 403C). This consists of a pinched face, with short tapering horns coming out from the side of the head and applied flattened pellets marking the ears behind. The figure has a slightly cylindrical body, but the front part has been pinched to form the chest area, which has a sharp edge running in a curve down the front of the animal. On the back, an elongated curving hump has been pulled up from the clay on the top of the shoulders, with the line of the back becoming very slightly concave behind, and ending with a flattened rump with a strip of clay running down the back to represent the tail. The clay of the tail has been modelled around several short lengths of yellowish plant fibre string, which have been teased out and continue beyond its end. On its underside, four short tapering legs have been shaped with narrow flattened bases that allow the figure to stand upright. The underside of the belly is curved, with 4 applied and pinched pellets of clay forming an udder. This area has a roughened surface, but elsewhere the clay is smoothly finished. The surface has been decorated with red pigment or ochre (Pantone 174C), painted or smeared on in a broad band that runs up the flanks and over the centre of the back, with two more bands running across and slightly up the chest. There also appears to be fainter stripes in a white pigment, covering some of the spaces between the red bands, and also running down the legs either side of the tail. The figure is nearly complete, but the tips of the horns and ears are broken and missing, their is a hairline crack in the clay near the head, and small fragments of the clay tail look to have been rejoined. There may also be some fragments missing from the end of the tail. It has a weight of 185.9 grams, is 86 mm high, 95 mm long, and 32.3 mm wide across the back legs.

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).

These figures were made by boys, and played with by children of both sexes. Evans-Pritchard says of the Nuer that: “The games of rather older children of both sexes centre round cattle. They build byres of sand in camps and of moistened ashes or mud in villages, and fill the toy kraals with fine mud cows and oxen ... with which they play at herding and marriage” (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940,
The Nuer, p. 38). These types of figures are differentiated to show the sex of the animal, and often include details such as hide markings and decorative ornaments (see 1936.10.85-86). They are not confined to cattle, but include wild animals, such as giraffes (1936.10.91, 1936.10.71), lions (1937.34.73, 1937.34.78), buffalo (1937.34.77), and hedgehogs (1937.34.70), as well as people (1936.10.92-93, 1937.34.74-75).

For clay figures made by the Dinka, see S.L. Cummins 1904, "Sub-tribes of the Bahr-el-Ghazal Dinkas",
JRAI 34, pp 160-161, and for a photograph of Shilluk children playing with a large group of such figures, see H.A. Bernatzik, 1929, Zwischen Weissem Nil und Belgisch-Kongo, fig. 137.

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: [p. 418] [insert] 82-90 [end insert] - [One of] 9 Figures of clay, representing bulls and cows (showing varieties of horn growth, colouring etc), made by boys & used as toys by boys and girls. ANUAK . [pencil insert] ANUAK? [end insert] NUER.
Additional Accession Book Entry [p. 417, in red biro, with line relating these to records 1936.10.82-90] - A15.F36.5 [= 1936.10.82-85, 1936.10.72], 68.18.34-35 [should be 68.18.31-32, = 1936.10.72, RTS 5/10/2004], PR 458Q, PR 117-118Q.

Card Catalogue Entry - Information as accession book entry, with additional handwritten data: [insert, red] A15.F36.5 PR 117-118Q [end insert], EASTERN SUDAN [ANUAK? covered in white-out, insert] NUER [end insert], [insert, black] These figures are labelled ANUAK but are almost certainly Nuer (info. from Jeremy Coote 1992). Jeremy Coote, "Marvels of Everyday Vision": The Anthropology of Aesthetics and the Cattle-Keeping Nilotes", in Jeremy Coote and Anthony Shelton (eds.), Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics (Oxford Studies in the Anthropology of Cultural Forms, 1), Oxford: Clarendon Press 1992. Copy in Research File - COOTE [RTS 23/7/2004].

Written on object - Toy cow. ANUAK, E. SUDAN. d.d. E. Evans-Pritchard, 1936 [RTS 5/10/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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