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 , Dried
H = 48.2, L = 68.3, W at shoulders = 26. 3 mm [RTS 12/10/2004].
79.8 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. This object was found amongst material in storage at Osney
Field Collector:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
PRM Source:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
Donated 1937, found unentered on 5th October 2004.
Collected Date:
October to November 1936
Toy figure of a wild buffalo, hand modelled out of well levigated gray clay with tiny mica flecks and occasional small white inclusions and dried in the sun (Pantone 404C). It consists of a cylindrical body, with a thickened ridge running along the top of the back then curving over the top of the head, giving the animal a stocky profile. The head itself is poorly defined, with the horns being its most prominent feature, curving out on either side of the face in a horizontal plane, with the line of the horns running across the front in a pinched, convex ridge. Another pinched ridge runs vertically down the front of the chest. The figure has four short legs, pulled out from the underside of the body, and poorly defined. Although these have pointed bases, the figure is able to stand upright. The underside of the belly is concave, following in a smooth line from front to back legs. A narrow strip of clay has been applied to the rump of the animal, and hangs down between the back legs to form a long tail. The surface of the figure has been smoothed, but some fingerprints are visible. It is complete and intact, with a weight of 79.8 grams, being 48.2 mm high, 68.3 mm long and 26.3 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), and hedgehogs (1937.34.70), as well as people (1936.10.92-93, 1937.34.75). This particular figure is one of the smallest example that Evans-Pritchard collected.

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] 1937.34.77 - From the NUER tribe, A.E. SUDAN, collected in 1936. Hand made mud 'buffalo' figure, gender not clear, with long tail and curving horns, used as a children's toy. Donated in 1937, found unaccessioned on 5th October 2004.

Card Catalogue Entry [tribes] - There is no catalogue card for this object [RTS 6/10/2004].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label -
Mud buffalo, NUER, A-E. SUDAN. d.d. E. Evans-Pritchard, 1937 [written on rectangular label, stuck to side of object; RTS 12/10/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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