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 , Impressed , Dried
Ht = 69, L = 132, W = 37.2 mm [RTS 12/10/2004].
223.5 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 lioness, hand made from a well levigated gray clay with tiny mica inclusions and sun dried (Pantone 405C). This consists of a slightly triangular head with tapering snout. Two rounded lugs have been pulled our from either side of the face to form the ears, with deep circular depressions marking the centre of each; these were probably made with a small stick. Similar holes have been made to mark the eyes, while the nostrils are represented by two thin vertical slits. A longer slit has been cut into the edge of the face to create a wide mouth, with small cuts for teeth along the upper and lower edges of this. The head merges into a modelled, roughly cylindrical body with a convex shoulder that gradually curves into the concave lower back, before flowing up to form the rounded rump. A long rounded piece of clay has been applied to the back of this as a long that hangs down between the rear legs then curls up and into a spiral at its base. Four long legs extend from the underside of the body, but the front and hind pair are not separated from one another until just above their base, where the feet are shaped to splay out slightly, with flattened undersides that allow the figure to stand unaided. There is no attempt to indicate individual toes. The underside of the body curves concavely from front to back. The surface of the figure has been smoothed. Although complete, it has been badly broken in the past, and is now mended from around 16 fragments, with some damage to the surface along the joins. The figure has a weight of 223.5 grams, is 69 mm high, 132 mm long and 37.2 mm wide across the shoulders.

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, 1936.10.71), lions (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, where it was misinterpreted as a cow. This particular figure was probably made as the pair to lion 1937.34.78, which shows stylistic similarities, particularly in the treatment of the face and shaping of the feet.

Currently on display in the Court, case 143A.

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.

Card Catalogue Entry [tribes] - Information as in the accession book entry, with addition of photographic reference: A9-F4-36 [refers to 1937.34.70 only, RTS 5/10/2004].

Publication History:
A sketch of this object is published 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).

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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