Nuer spear

Nuer spear
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1940
Ebony Wood Plant , Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Brass Metal
Carved , Socketed , Covered , Tooled , Polished
Preserved L = 971; point L to top sheath = 412, diam = 28 x 27.7; sheath L = 153, diam at top = 31.3, shaft diam = 23.4 x 20.5, brass ring = 29.5 x 28.5 x 2.5 mm [RTS 12/7/2005].
393.0 g
Other Owners:
Charles Gabriel Seligman
Field Collector:
? Charles Gabriel Seligman & ?Brenda Zara Seligman
PRM Source:
Charles Gabriel Seligman or Brenda Zara Seligman
Donated 1940
Collected Date:
By 1940
Spear consisting of an narrow, elongated ebony point, with varicoloured dark reddish brown (Pantone 476C) and dark brown surface (Pantone Black 4C). The base of this rests against a long, narrow shaft made from orangey brown wood (Pantone 729C); both parts are slightly oval in section and have been polished. The junction between the two has been covered with a cylindrical sheath, cut from a section of animal's tail with the hair removed; this was shrunken in place over the base of the point and top of the shaft to keep these parts together, and the surface lightly tooled to create a rope-like design running around the circumference. The sheath is an orangey brown colour (Pantone 730C), and is complete. A simple brass rod has been bent into a loop with overlapping ends and fitted over the lower part of the sheath; the surface has corroded slightly and dulled as a result, although the original metallic yellow colour of the brass shows through in places (Pantone 871C). The spear shaft has been deliberately cut off at an angle, part-way down the body, perhaps by the collector to enable it to be transported more easily. The spear is otherwise complete. It has a weight of 393 grams, and a preserved length of 971 mm. The point measures 412 mm in length, to the top of the sheath, and has a diameter of 28 by 27.7 mm; the sheath is 153 mm long and has an upper diameter of 31.3 mm, while the diameter of the shaft is 23.4 by 20.5 mm and the brass ring is 29.5 mm long, 28.5 mm wide and 2.5 mm thick.

This spear was donated to the museum by Charles Gabriel Seligman, and may also have been collected by Seligman and his wife while conducting fieldwork in the region.

Evans-Pritchard, writing in 1940, said of the Nuer: 'Till recently they possessed very few iron spears, cherished as heirlooms, but used instead the straightened horns of antelope and buck, ebony wood, and the rib-bones of giraffe, all of which are still used to-day, though almost entirely in dances ...’ (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940, The Nuer, p. 86). Evans-Pritchard gives the Nuer term for this style of spear as giel (see 1936.10.1-3). Howell, on the other hand, gives the Nuer term for these spears as giit, while the iron headed spears were known as mur. He states that the giit were regarded 'with considerable amusement' by younger Nuer, but that a few were retained as they were 'considered particularly effective in war, and the Nuer hope they may one day be able to use them ... although it required greater skill and strength to inflict a wound with a giit, the wounds once inflicted are more severe'. He goes on to describe the method of hafting them: 'The giit ... is fixed at the joint with an unsewn leather collar made from the tail skin of an ox. This is soaked and stretched round the haft, where it shrinks as it dries'. (P.P. Howell, 1947, "On the Value of Iron Among the Nuer", Man 47, p. 132-3).

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 468] The late Professor C.G. SELIGMAN, M.D., F.R.S. Miscellaneous collection presented in part by himself, June, 1940, and in part, after his death, by Mrs B.Z. Seligman, October, 1940. [p. 504] 1940.12.618 - Spear with long ebony head which is joined to the wooden shaft with a broad tightly fitting band of hide. NILOTIC SUDAN (said to be from the NUER).

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the tribes catalogue card [RTS 23/7/2004].

Pitt Rivers Museum label - Spear with ebony head. NUER. NILOTIC SUDAN. d.d. Dr C.G. Seligman. 1940.12.618 [rectangular metal-edged tag, broken into 2 pieces, stored in RDF 1940.12.618]; AFRICA, Sudan. Nuer tribe. Spear with ebony point. d.d. C.G. Seligman, 1940.12.618 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 12/7/2005].

Written on object -
Spear with ebony head. NUER, NILOTIC SUDAN. d.d. Dr C.G. Seligman. 1940.12.618 [RTS 12/7/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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