Nuer toy figure

Nuer toy figure
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Made by boys.
Date Made:
By 1936
Modelled , Pinched , Dried
Ht = 110, L = 121, W = 30.2 mm [RTS 12/10/2004].
182.5 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 giraffe, hand modelled from well levigated brownish gray clay with tiny mica inclusions and the occasional larger stone inclusion (Pantone 7532C), dried in the sun. This consists of a small head, pinched in at either side and tapering to the mouth, which is marked by a simple slit. At the top of the head, small applied pellets of clay have been added and pinched at the top to form the ears, with two further tapering pieces as short horns and then a third piece perhaps as a tuft of hair in the centre. This is on a long, slender neck, that thickens at its base to form a cylindrical body with four cylindrical legs coming out from the underside. Each leg looks to have been formed from a rolled cylindrical piece of clay, applied to the body, and then joined along its upper part to its neighbour. They separate lower down the limb, and end in roughly shaped flat bases which allow the animal to stand upright. Four small pellets of clay have been applied to the underside of the belly to represent the udder. There is also a tail hanging down between the back legs; this has broken off near the top, with the lower part currently missing. The figure is otherwise complete. The surface has been smoothed, but has some flaws around the legs from the modelling process. It has a weight of 182.5 grams, is 110 mm high, 121 mm long and 30.2 mm wide across the rump.

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).

There is also a male giraffe in the collection (see 1937.34.71); note that Evans-Pritchard also collected 'pairs' of male and female human figures, and a male and female lion (see 1937.34.73 and 1937.34.78). However, although such figures may sometimes have been made as male/female pairs, the style of the two giraffe figures suggest that they were not made by the same person.

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 (1936.10.71), 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.

Published in F. Turner and J. Cousins,
Birds and Animals: A Pitt Rivers Museum Colouring Book, sketch on p. 13.

Currently on display in the Court, case 143A.

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] 91 [end insert] - Similar figure of a giraffe [Figures of clay], same data [ ANUAK . NUER].

Card Catalogue Entry [tribes] - EASTERN SUDAN, NUER. Clay figure of a giraffe. These figures are made by boys, and used as toys by boys and girls. Coll. by donor. d.d. E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1936 [RTS 23/7/2004].

Written on object -
Toy giraffe. ANUAK, E. SUDAN. d.d. Evans-Pritchard 1936 [RTS 12/10/2004].

Publication History:
A sketch of this object was illustrated, alongside 1936.10.85 and 1937.34.73, on page 13 of Birds and Animals: A Pitt Rivers Museum Colouring Book, by Francia Turner and Julia Cousins (Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 1986). The caption on the same page reads: 'Giraffe, bull and cow. Nuer children play with bulls and cows like these. In their games they are looking after the herds as their parents do. They play with animals like the giraffe because they live near them.' [JC 10/9/2004]

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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