Nuer toy figure

Nuer toy figure
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1936
Modelled , Pinched , Impressed
Ht = 162, L = 137, W = 34.7 mm [RTS 21/10/2004].
310.5 g
Other Owners:
Collected by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard during his last period of fieldwork amongst the Nuer between October and November 1936, where he worked amongst the Nuer Leek in the area west of the Nile [RTS 6/7/2004].
Field Collector:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
PRM Source:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
Donated 1937
Collected Date:
October to November 1936
Toy figure of a giraffe, hand modelled from a well levigated dark gray clay with tiny mica inclusions (Pantone 405C), dried in the sun. This consists of a small triangular head with pointed snout; at the top, the clay has been pulled up for the top of the head, and two small peaks that represent its bony 'horns'. The ears are formed from two clay pellets, applied to the surface and flattened, with the centres marked by impressed dots. Similar dots mark the eyes, with smaller dots for the nostrils below, while the mouth is formed from a cut running across the jaw line towards either ear. This head joins onto a long, curving neck, pinched along the top to form a ridge that runs down the length, with a short cylindrical torso at the end. A long piece of clay has been added for the tail, hanging down between the back legs; most of this is now missing. Two pairs of legs extend from the underside of the body, angled outwards; these take the form of long oval sectioned cylinders, with the legs separating just above their bases into two parts, the undersides of which are either pointed or round. However the figure is able to stand upright without assistance. Male genitals have been added between the back pair, just below the animal's stomach. The surface is burnished, but also has some glossy patches that look like a surface coating of some kind. The figure is nearly complete, but most of the tail and some of the surface from the lower back legs is missing. It is otherwise intact, with a well smoothed surface, and has a weight of 310.5 grams, is 162 mm high, 137 mm long and 34.7 mm wide across the rump.

Collected by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard during his last period of fieldwork amongst the Nuer between October and November 1936, where he worked amongst the Nuer Leek in the area west of the Nile (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), lions (1937.34.73, 1937.34.78), buffalo (1937.34.77), as well as people (1936.10.92-93, 1937.34.74-75).

There is also a female giraffe in the collection (see 1936.10.91), but this is made of differently coloured clay and has some stylistic differences, suggesting that it was not made by the same person. 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). 1937.34.71 is stylistically similar to the two lions, particularly in the treatment of the ears, and legs, and in the colour of the clay, suggesting this small group was probably all made by the same individual.

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.

Currently on display in the Upper Gallery, case 26A.

Rachael Sparks 18/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 38, pencil in left column] 34 [ink] E.E. EVANS-PRITCHARD , M.A., Exeter College. Specimens collected by himself in the EASTERN SUDAN, vis: [addition in different pen] (Coll. in 1936) [p. 41, pencil] 70-75 [ink] [1 of] 6 mud toys, models of animals & man & woman. 1937.34.71 - Giraffe (black) no given AP.

Card Catalogue Entry [tribes] - Information as in the accession book entry, with addition of photographic references: A9-F4-36 [refers to 1937.34.70], A20 F10 7 [next to entry for 1937.34.71; there is also a small sketch of this on the back of the card; RTS 23/7/2004].

Written on object -
Mud giraffe. NUER, A.-E. SUDAN. d.d. E. Evans Pritchard 1937 [on paper label stuck to side of object; RTS 21/10/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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