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 = 101, L = 112, W = 35.2 mm [RTS 13/10/2004].
209.7 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 an ox, hand made from a well levigated gray clay with tiny mica and some white inclusions (Pantone 403C), dried in the sun and possibly painted with white and black pigment. This consists of a cylindrical body, pinched together at the front to form a sharp ridge that runs down in a vertical line from the head to just above the feet. The head itself is poorly defined, and dominated by the horns, one of which curls away from the face, the other curving forwards towards it, suggestive of artificially trained horns. Behind the head, the back rises to an elongated hump with curved top, then slopes down concavely to form the back beyond. A thin piece of clay has been rolled and applied to the back as a tail, hanging down between the legs; the end of this has broken off and is missing. The underside of the body has been pulled out to form front and back legs; these are in the shape of a single pillar of clay until just above the base, where they divide into two parts with uneven undersides. Unlike most of the other figures in this group, this figure has some trouble standing unaided and can only do so on a perfectly flat surface. Another piece of clay has been applied to the underside of the body, between the legs, to represent the testes. The surface has faint traces of white pigment, largely in the form of splotches on the back and what may have been stripes down the front flanks, while there is a darker black patch on the centre of the body on one side. This is probably the remnants of pigment painted on to imitate different hide patterns. The figure is nearly complete, but the end of the tail is missing and both horns have been reattached to the body. It has a weight of 209.7 grams, is 101 mm high, 112 mm long and measures 35.2 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). This figure is probably an ox, rather than a bull, as the Nuer generally only train and decorate the horns of their castrated male cattle (ox being a term that is often applied to castrated bovine quadrupeds, whereas bull used more generically for the male of the species) (pers. comm. J. Coote 2004).

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 bull. ANUAK, E. SUDAN. d.d. Evans-Pritchard. 1936 [RTS 13/10/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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