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 , Pigment
Modelled , Pinched , Dried , Painted
Ht = 96, L = 134, W = 39.5 mm [RTS 21/10/2004].
323.3 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 figure of a cow, hand made from a well levigated grayish brown clay with tiny gold coloured mica inclusions (Pantone 7532C), dried in the sun, and painted with black and white pigment. This consists of a cylindrical body, oval in section, pinched together at the front to form a ridge that runs in a vertical line from the head to just above the feet. The head is triangular, but poorly defined, with a short cut marking the mouth. This is surmounted by a short pair of horns, curving in front of the face and tapering to points. Behind the head, the back rises to a hump, then slopes down concavely along the back. A thin piece of clay for the tail has been rolled and applied to the rear, hanging down between the hind legs. This has a thick blob at its base. The underside of the body has been pulled out to form two pairs of legs; these separate just above their bases to form individual feet with flattened undersides that allow the figure to stand upright. A piece of clay has been applied to the underside of the body and pulled out to form 4 teats; this represents the udder. The surface has traces of pigment applied in broad patches and bands - with white pigment in a triangle over the forehead, down the hump and flanks below, and over the rear end (Pantone 434C), while black pigment has been applied to the front flanks and the flanks just behind the hump (Pantone black 7C). The figure is complete, except for the tip of its right horn; it has been mended from 5 joining fragments. It has a weight of 323.3 grams, is 96 mm high, 134 mm long and measures 39.5 mm across the hind quarters.

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 [see above], E. SUDAN, d.d. E. Evans-Pritchard 1936 [RTS 21/10/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
Help | About | Bibliography