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 L = 114 mm, W between ears = 17.5 mm, between hands = 90 mm, across feet = 58 mm; th head = 18 mm, th torso = 27 mm; impressed dots W = 1 mm [RTS 29/9/2004].
141.0 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 from a well levigated gray clay (Pantone 404C) and dried in the sun. This is in the shape of a naked female figure, standing facing to the front with arms outstretched on either side of the body and her feet pointing forwards. The head is extremely small and slightly pinched in from the sides, with the face marked by a simple curving surface. Two flattened pellets have been applied to the sides to form oval lug ears, with their openings marked by rectangular slots impressed into the side of the head. Circular dots mark the eyes, with more linear impressions for the nostrils and as a horizontal mouth below. The figure has been given a slight chin, then a long neck that thickens to its base. The shoulders are broad and rounded, leading to arms that are held out from the body and which taper to flattened hands with their palms facing to the front. Short cuts have been made from the outer edge to form 6 fingers on each hand. The torso itself is cylindrical, and has two conical pellets applied to form breasts at the front, and prominent modelled buttocks on the back, with a deep hole underneath to mark either anus or genitalia. At its base, the torso divides into two short cylindrical legs, pulled out at their ends to form broad splaying feet with flat oval undersides. Incisions on the front edges of these create 6 toes on the figure's right foot, and 7 on its left. The figure has been further decorated with impressed dots to indicate body scarring. These consist of two curving parallel rows running down from the shoulders and between the breasts - a design that is identical to the chest scarring shown on male figure 1937.34.75. Below this, the waist is decorated with two broad bands of dots in rows, 7 wide and 7 deep. On the back left shoulder blade, scarring consists of a group of 2 horizontal rows of dots, then a second group below of 3 rows with 4 vertical rows pendant from it - again, matching the cicatrisation pattern seen on 1937.34.75. The figure is essentially complete, but has been mended and there has been some loss of material along some joins. The impressed dots and dragged lines were probably made with a thin piece of hollow grass or straw, and the same tool seems to have been used throughout. It has a weight of 141 grams, is 114 mm tall, and measures 17.5 mm between the ears, 90 mm between the outstretched hands and 58 mm between the feet; the head is 18 mm thick and the torso is 27 mm thick, while the impressed dots have 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 1937.34.74, but differs in having an anal hole and delineated toes. Some of the scarring marks were probably made using the same tool.

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. 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 -
NUER, A.E. SUDAN, d.d. E. Evans-Pritchard, 1937 [rectangular paper label stuck to back of object, RTS 29/9/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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