Nuer spear

Nuer spear
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By November 1923
Iron Metal , Cane Plant , Copper Metal? , Brass Metal ?
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Socketed , Carved , Bound , Decorated
Total L = 2102; spear-head L = 467, blade L with barbs = 220, blade W = 37.8, th = 5; shank diam = 11.2, socket diam = 20; upper shaft diam = 17 x 16.4; upper binding L = 58, W strip = 6; lower butt binding L = 45, W strip = 10 mm [RTS 8/8/2005].
698.7 g
Other Owners:
Collected by W. Sherlock Lennon on 17th February 1923 [misread as 17th November 1923 when making the accession book entry], donated to the PRM by his sisters Kathleen Constance Averina Knowles and Mrs Cameron in August 1946 [RTS 26/8/2005].
Field Collector:
W. Sherlock Lennon
PRM Source:
Kathleen Constance Averina Knowles & Mrs Cameron
Donated August 1946
Collected Date:
17 February 1923
Spear consisting of an iron spearhead with a narrow, leaf-shaped blade that ends in two tapering barbs that have been pulled away from the central shaft. The blade has been thickened down the middle of both sides. This joins with a solid, round sectioned shank, that has a thickened shoulder at its base with 2 very long, rectangular sectioned barbs extending down from either side; these barbs have been pulled away from the body and twisted around the lower part of the spearhead, ending in sharp points that splay out in opposite directions. Below is a cylindrical socket that expands towards its base, with a closed seam running up the front. The base of this has been fitted over the top of a segmented cane shaft, made from a orangey brown coloured wood (Pantone 730C) with 7 segments along its length. This tapers to a flat base, and has been polished. The butt has been bound round with a narrow iron strip, that extends slightly beyond the base of the shaft. A short rectangular band of either copper or brass has been wound around the spearhead shank, just above the twisted barbing, and a second, longer band winds in a spiral around the upper part of the cane shaft, just below the base of the spearhead. These strips have a slight raised ridge running down the centre of their length. The spear is complete, but has some rust on the iron elements, which are otherwise a metallic gray colour (Pantone 877C) and some insect bore holes down the shaft body. It has a weight of 698.7 grams, and a total length of 2102 mm; the spearhead is 467 mm long, with a blade length including the barbs of 220 mm, a width of 37.8 and thickness at centre of 5 mm, a shank diameter of 11.2 mm, and socket diameter of 20 mm; the upper shaft is 17 by 16.4 mm in diameter, the upper shaft binding covers a length of 58 mm and is made from a strip 6 mm wide, while the iron spear butt is 45 mm long and made from a strip 10 mm in width, that tapers to its ends.

This spear does not appear typically Nuer, and was presumably manufactured by another group and traded to them. The style of blade with barbed base has similarities to blades made by the Jur Luo (see 1939.7.106-107), although the twisted barbs around the spearhead shank is an unusual feature that is not clearly paralleled. The use of decorative metal binding, as seen on this example, also appears on other Nuer objects in the Pitt Rivers Collection, including ritual forms such as the dang (1928.67.3, 1931.66.33) and axes (1946.8.91-92, both also collected by Lennon).

Iron was originally scarce among the Nuer, and objects made from it were therefore highly prized. Iron spears (
mur ) were often kept as heirlooms, with the majority of spears having points made out of materials such as antelope, ebony or giraffe bone ( giit ). By the 1920's, when this object was collected, this was changing as trade contacts increased. Iron spears become more common, with the introduction of large quantities of ready-made examples accelerating the process. Evans-Pritchard later noted that the older type of spear was still being used in dances (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940, The Nuer, p. 86; P.P. Howell, 1947, "On the Value of Iron Among the Nuer", Man 47, p. 132).

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 143]- LADY KNOWLES, 3 BRADMORE ROAD, OXFORD & MRS. CAMERON. Specimens collected by their brother, CAPT MAJOR W.S. LENNON, from the NUER TRIBE, SUDAN, 1923. Labelled by G. R. CARLINE. Coll. 17 Nov. 1923. 1946.8.89 - A[NGLO]-E[GYPTIAN]. SUDAN. Spear, leaf-shaped iron blade with 2 barbs, 2 additional barbs below blade formed by twisted iron bands. Flat band of iron bound round shaft at butt, & copper band below socket. Cane shaft. Total length 6' 10 3/4", blade (with socket) 18 1/2".
Additional Accession Book Entry [page facing 143] - Major W. S. Lennon was District Commissioner in the Sudan.

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

Pitt Rivers Museum label - AFRICA, Sudan. Nuer tribe. Spear with iron blade and cane shaft. Coll. W.S. Lennon 1923. d.d. K. Knowles & Mrs Cameron, 1946.8.89 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 8/8/2005].

Written on object - NUER, A.-E. SUDAN. Coll. 17 Feb. 1923 by Major W.S. Lennon. d.d. Lady Knowles & Mrs Cameron [RTS 25/7/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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