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 , Fire-Hardened
Ht = 86, L = 132.2, W = 35.5 mm [RTS 12/10/2004].
322.5 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. 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 male lion, hand modelled out of a well levigated gray clay with tiny mica inclusions (Pantone 404C). The surface has been irregularly blackened (Pantone black 7C), suggesting that the figure may have been lightly fired. As most other figures in this class seem to be sun dried, it is not known whether this firing was intentional or not. The lion has a cylindrical body, with a slightly triangular head that has a sharp ridge running down the centre of the face, becoming less distinct as it reaches the eyes. Two rounded lugs have been pulled out from either side of the head to indicate the ears, with a large circular depression marking their centres, probably made with a twig. Similar holes mark the eyes, with smaller hollows marking the nostrils below. A slit has been cut across the end of the snout to represent the mouth. The body itself has a convex back, pinched at the top to form a sharp ridge that continues the line from the top of the head, before becoming concave at the lower back then rising up again to form a more rounded rear. A narrow, rounded strip of clay has been added to hang down between the back legs to form the tail; this curls up at its base. At the front, the chest has been similarly pinched to form a ridge that runs vertically down from the base of the neck to just above the front paws. The figure has four short legs, pulled out from the underside of the body, and only really made distinct towards their bases, where four short paws splay out, with flattened undersides, and notches cut into the front to mark the toes, the number of which varies from 6 to 8. These allow the figure to stand unaided. The underside of the body follows a gentle concave curve at the front, with an applied and modelled piece of clay marking the lion's testes. The surface of the figure has been smoothed, but some fingerprints are visible. It appears to be complete, except for some possible damage to the figure's right front paw; the tail has been mended. The figure has a weight of 322.5 grams, is 86 mm high, 132.2 mm long, and 35.5 mm wide across the centre of the body.

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 (1937.34.73), buffalo (1937.34.77), and hedgehogs (1937.34.70), as well as people (1936.10.92-93, 1937.34.75). This particular figure was probably made as the pair to 1937.34.73, a lioness, which shows stylistic similarities, particularly in the treatment of the face and shaping of the feet. However, this is the only figure in the group that appears to have a blackened surface, possibly burnt - all the rest lack signs of firing and were probably sun-dried.

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 Lower Gallery, case 129A.

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 - [ditto marks = 'From the NUER tribe, A.E. SUDAN, collected in 1936']. Handmade mud lion figure with long tail and incised lines marking toes. Used as a children's toy. Donated in 1937, found unentered 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 figure, 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
Help | About | Bibliography