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 , Grass Stem Plant , Plant Fibre , Grass Fibre Plant?
Modelled , Pinched , Perforated , Dried , Painted
Ht = 132, L = 135, W = 45.5 mm [RTS 12/11/2004].
499.6 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 ox figure, hand made from a well levigated brown clay with many small mica inclusions (Pantone 7531C), sun dried and then painted with red (Pantone 7522C) and white pigment (Pantone ca. 7506C). The figure consists of a cylindrical body, tapering in to the front which has been pinched sharply together to form a vertical ridge that runs down the chest to just above the feet. A small head has been modelled above, with a similar pinched ridge running down from the brow. This is dominated by a large pair of horns, tapering to sharp points at either end, with one horn curving forward in front of the face, and the other curving upwards and slightly away from it. The curvature is probably meant to suggest artificially trained horns. Each has been pierced near its tip, and a length of twisted plant fibre string threaded through; the string is a pale yellow colour (Pantone 7507C). A series of clay pellets were then pressed around the string as small weighted ornaments; the right horn has 5 of these pellets hanging down one side of the horn, and 6 on the other; the left horn has 4 pellets hanging down from either side. The bull's eyes are formed from two small pellets of clay, applied to either side of the head, while nostrils are marked by circular depressions, and the mouth by an incised slash. A short piece of yellow grass stem has been inserted in the mouth, suggesting a tongue.

Behind the head, the back runs up to an elongated, curved hump; the back is concave behind with a pronounced rump. A piece of clay has been rolled and pressed against the rear of the animal, tapering in and extending down between the back legs to form a tail. This has been shaped around a length of grass fibre, that extends beyond the clay tail body and has been teased out slightly. The ox has four legs, which extend from the body as rectangular pillars until just above the ground, where they separate into individual limbs that are more cylindrical in shape. These have flattened undersides that allow the figure to stand upright. A narrow strip of clay has been applied to the underside of the belly, then slightly pinched; a group of three small pellets have been added on either side, two near its base, and one higher up, to indicate the male genitalia. The surface has been painted with pigment to simulate the colouring of an animal's hide. On one side, the hump, horns, flanks and hind quarters are painted white, with a horizontal red band of colour running across the upper body. On the other side, hump and most of the flanks are painted red, with white pigment on the area near the face and the animal underside. The figure is nearly complete, although the tip of one horn has broken off and is missing; this same horn has been reattached near its base. There are a few partial fingerprint impressions across the surface of the clay. The object has a weight of 499.6 grams, is 132 mm high, 135 mm long and 45.5 mm wide across its 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 another ox figure with pellet strings hanging from its horns, see 1936.10.85.

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. E. Evans-Pritchard 1936 [RTS 12/11/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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