Nuer toy figure

Nuer toy figure
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1936
Modelled , Dried , Decorated , Impressed
Max H = 120 mm, W between ears = 28 mm, between arms = 100 mm, between feet = 53 mm; th head = 27.5, th torso = 28 mm, diam dots = 2 mm, W smaller dots = 1 mm [RTS 29/9/2004].
136.7 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, hand modelled out of a well levigated gray clay (Pantone 404C) and dried in the sun. This is in the shape of a naked male figure, standing facing to the front with his arms outstretched on either side of the body and his feet pointing inwards. The figure has a triangular head that ends in a tapering, curling peak at the top, probably representing his hairstyle. The face is marked by a convex surface, without further modelling. Two large lug ears have been applied to either side, with impressed dots marking their lower part; small raised sections in the centres of some of these suggest that they were probably made using a hollow grass stem. Similar dots mark the eyes and nostrils, with the mouth marked by a horizontal line incised below. The forehead is marked with 6 parallel horizontal lines, representing cicatrisation scars. The figure has a broad, poorly defined neck that turns out to a cylindrical torso. The shoulders are broad and rounded, leading to arms that are held away from the body, and which taper to flattened hands with their palms facing to the front. Sharp cuts have been made from the outer face to form 6 fingers on each hand. Three applied conical pellets have been added to the front of the torso to form nipples and the navel. There are no male genitalia, although the surface at the base of the torso is slightly rough, and it is possible that these had broken off in the past and been lost. The back of the figure has minimal modelling, except for the buttocks which curve outward from the line of the back. At its base, the torso divides into two short cylindrical legs, pulled out at their base on the inside edges to form feet with broad, flat undersides. The figure has been further decorated with dots to indicate body scarring, consisting of 2 parallel curving rows of dots running down from the shoulders and between the nipples; 2 single lines running down to the navel; 3 horizontal rows running across each thigh, and on the back left shoulder blade of the figure, a group of 2 horizontal rows of dots, followed by 3 horizontal rows with a vertical group of 4 rows pendant from it. The dots on the thighs and back have been made with a tool of smaller diameter to that used elsewhere on the figure, but of similar type. The figure is essentially complete, but it has been mended and there has been some loss of material along some of these joins. It has a weight of 136.7 grams, is 120 mm tall, and measures 28 mm between the ears, 100 mm between the outstretched hands, and 53 mm across the feet; the head is 27.5 mm thick and the torso is 28 mm thick. The larger impressed dots have a diameter of 2 mm; the smaller ones a width of 1 mm.

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, 1937.34.75). This particular figure is similar in style and material to 1937.34.75, but differs in lacking an anal hole, and delineated toes. Some of the scarring marks were probably made using the same tool (that with the smaller diameter), and the patterns across the chest and back shoulder blade are the same.

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.

For photographs of Nuer men wearing a similar, peaked hairstyle, made by dressing the hair with ash, see E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940,
The Nuer, pl. XXVIa and 1951, Kinship and Marriage Among the Nuer, pl. III.

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].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label -
Mud toy, NUER, A.-E. SUDAN. d.d. E. Evans Pritchard 1937 [rectangular paper label stuck to back of object; RTS 28/9/2004]

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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