Nuer or Dinka spear

Nuer or Dinka spear
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
1940.12.620 .1 .2
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
?Nuer or Dinka
Date Made:
By 1940
Wood Plant , Ebony Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin
Carved , Polished , Stained , Covered , Decorated , Impressed Tooled
[.1 & .2] Total L = 2120 mm, shaft diam at top = 22.5 x 21, diam at base = 12.8; spear-head visible L = 415, max diam = 31.5 x 29; sheath L = 172. [.1] L = 1125, [.2] L = 1152 [RTS 26/7/2005].
[.1 and .2] 741.2 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 a narrow, straight point made from polished dark brown ebony with an oval section (Pantone Black 4C). This joins at its base with a long narrow wooden shaft, slightly irregular in form and more circular in section, tapering in to a flat base and stained a orangey brown colour (Pantone 730C). The junction between these two parts is covered with a brown cylindrical sheath, cut from a section of animal tail with the hair removed (Pantone 7505C). This had been stretched over the body whilst wet and then shrunken in place, obscuring the exact manner by which the spearhead meets the shaft. There are faint lentoid-shaped impressions on the surface, where it has been tooled in rows, now barely visible. The spear is complete, but has been deliberately cut into two parts, midway along the shaft, with the two joining parts sheared off at an oblique angle so that they overlap when joined. This was probably done by the collector to facilitate transportation. The spear has a weight of 741.2 grams, and when the two parts are fitted together, a total length of 2210 mm. The visible part of the spearhead is 415 mm long, with a maximum diameter of 31.5 by 29 mm, while the sheath covers a length of 172 mm. The shaft has an upper diameter of 22.5 by 21 mm, and a diameter of 12.8 mm at its base. 1940.12.620.1 has an individual length, as cut, of 1125 mm, while the 1940.12.620.2 has a length of 1152 mm.

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] 1940.12.620 - Similar ditto [“Spear with long ebony head which is joined to the wooden shaft with a broad tightly fitting band of hide”]. ?NUER or DINKA.

Pitt Rivers Museum label - AFRICA SUDAN [brown luggage label, used to identify group of objects in store; tied to object RTS 26/7/2005]; AFRICA, Southern Sudan. NUER or DINKA? Spear with ebony point, in 2 halves. d.d. C.G. Seligman. 1940.12.620.1-.2 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 26/7/2005].

Written on object -
Spear with ebony head. ?DINKA or NUER? NILOTIC SUDAN. d.d. Dr C.G. Seligman 1940.12.620.1 [RTS 26/7/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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