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 , Dried , Impressed , Decorated
Max L = 123.7 mm, W head 14.5 mm, W across arms = 43.7 mm, W across feet = 29.8 mm, th torso = 25 mm [RTS 28/9/2004].
117.2 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
Small toy figure, hand modelled out of a well levigated grayish brown clay mixed with micaceous inclusions (Pantone 7532C), and sun dried. This is in the form of a naked man, standing facing to the front, with his arms held down and against his sides. The figure has an elongated, rounded skull, and rounded face with no modelling at all; eyes, ears and nostrils are simply indicated by impressed dots, probably made using a twig or straw. The mouth is marked by a short horizontal line with impressed dots in a horizontal row above and below, perhaps to indicate teeth. The forehead is marked with 5 horizontal lines for cicatrisation marks. The figure has a short concave neck, flaring out to a cylindrical torso with rounded shoulders and short legs, pulled out at their base to form feet with broad flat undersides. Two very short tapering arms have been applied to the side of the body, with their ends pressed flat. Small pellets have been added to the front of the torso, to indicate breasts or nipples, navel, and testes, with a short tapering piece added in front for the penis. Further clay has been applied to the back to form the buttocks, with a shallow division between. A small depression between the legs marks the anus. The figure is complete and intact. It has a weight of 117.2 grams, is 123.7 mm tall, and measures 14.5 mm across the head, 43.7 mm across the arms, 29.8 mm across the feet, with a thickness of 25 mm at the torso.

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 (1936.10.71), lions (1937.34.73, 1937.34.78), buffalo (1937.34.77), and hedgehogs (1937.34.70), as well as people (1936.10.93, 1937.34.74-75). This particular example appears to be made from similar clay to 1936.10.93. Compare it also with 1937.34.74, which also shows scarring across the forehead and has applied pellets on the chest of a male figure.

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] 92-93 [end insert] - [One of] 2 similar figures [of clay], of a man & a woman, same data [ ANUAK . NUER].

Card Catalogue Entry [tribes] - EASTERN SUDAN, NUER. 2 clay figures, of a man and a woman. 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 -
Doll. ANUAK, E. SUDAN. d.d. E. Evans-Pritchard 1936 [this must have been marked before the accession book entry was corrected from Anuak to Nuer, RTS 22/9/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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