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Nuer

Nuer

ETHNONYMS: Nath

Orientation

Identification and Location. The term Nuer has been used for over two hundred years, but its origin is unknown. It is likely that the term came from neighboring groups, especially the Dinka. The name is used in both the singular (a Nuer person) and the plural (the Nuer people), but Nuer people call themselves Nath. Along with the neighboring Dinka, the Nuer form a subdivision of a larger East African cultural group known as the Nilotics that also includes the Luo, Shilluk, and Anyuak. The Nuer live in South Sudan in the swamps and open savanna on both sides of the Nile River south of its junction with the Sobat and Bahr-al-Ghazal and along both banks of those tributaries. Nuer territory lies approximately 500 miles (800 kilometers) south of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. The Nuer are so similar to the Dinka in physical appearance, language, and customs that there is no doubt about their common origin, though the history of their divergence is unknown. The two peoples, despite intermittent conflicts, live in close proximity, maintain continuous contact, have intermarried, and have borrowed cultural patterns from each other. They have an array of myths and legends that speak of their historical unity. Both groups recognize their common origin.

Like all other South Sudanese peoples, the Nuer became part of the Sudanese polity in the 1820s, when the nation-state was taking shape, beginning with the Ottoman invasion from Egypt in 1821. Their incorporation began with the slave trade. Like the other South Sudanese groups, the Nuer have resisted incorporation into the Sudanese political structure. This resistance has led to the development of two distinct parts of the country: the north and the south. Northerners self-identify as Arabs and are Muslim, while Southerners identify themselves as black, African, and, increasingly, Christian. The north has held state power because of its long history of benefiting from contact with the Arabs and then the Turks, the British, and the Arabs again after independence from Britain in 1956.

All these governments attempted to force Nuerland into the structure of a united Sudan. A combination of that effort and neglect of social and economic development in the south have caused rebellions. Two civil wars have ensued, the latest of which continues into the beginning of the twenty-first century. Nuer participation in these wars has two sources. The first is resistance to the authority of the Khartoum government, which keeps them Sudanese but does not provide education and health care. The other is cultural differences such as Islamic beliefs in the north and Christianity and traditional religions in the south. This conflict reflects an uneven distribution of resources that favors the north.

Demography. In the 1930s the Nuer population was estimated at around 200,000. The British colonial government's census of 1952 put their number at 250,000. Sudan gained independence in 1956, but the country had already plunged into a north-south civil war in 1955 that continued through 1972. The first government census after the war indicated that the Nuer numbered nearly 300,000 in a country of 15 million. That number was said to have risen to 800,000 when the civil war resumed in 1983. Over the last eighteen years of the war, at least a quarter of the 2 million estimated casualties are thought to have been Nuer, and their current population is estimated as approximately 500,000 of Sudan's total estimated population of 26 million.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Nuer language is in the Nilotic branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family, a branch that includes Dinka, Luo, Shilluk, Anyuak, and a number of other language groups. Linguistic similarities between these groups and a shared vocabulary indicate a degree of shared origin or mutual influence.

History and Cultural Relations

It has been suggested that the Nuer, along with other Nilotic groups, settled along the Bahr-al-Ghazal, Bahr-al-Jebel, and Sobat rivers in South Sudan around the fourteenth century; that is where they acquired their techniques for animal domestication. When other groups migrated southward in search of more elevated terrain to avoid floods, the Nuer stayed where they were.

Cattle are central in Nuerlife and have also affected the politics of contact between the Nuer and other nearby pastoral peoples. Because cattle represent the Nuer's social, cultural, and economic security, they are a constant source of conflict. The grazing plains of the upper Nile have been a major cause of conflict between the Nuer and the Dinka and among the different subgroups of Nuer. Cattle have also dictated the way the Nuer have reacted to state authorities. The successive governments in Khartoum have mandated that cattle in all Nilotic areas be incorporated into the state economy. Taxation was one method for achieving that aim. Requiring the Nuer to pay taxes in cash in a cashless economy where paid labor did not exist ensured that the Nuer would have to sell their cattle. The effort by the north to commercialize Nuer cattle has historically caused the Nuer to challenge the government, including their participation in the current war. Among the Nuer, the government's efforts to commercialize their cattle has been seen as an assault on their identity. There are regional variations between different Nuer subgroups, and these differences have been used by the government to weaken Nuer resistance. Nuer cattle have become monetized and commercialized, and the sizes of their herds have dwindled drastically, causing large numbers of Nuer to seek refuge in disaster relief centers across the country or in Dinka villages to the west.

Settlements

Nuerland is in the swamps of the upper Nile, and villages are grouped according to the lineage system into the few elevated areas. Because of the environment, the Nuer engage in a nearly constant movement between the cattle camps of the dry season and villages in the few mildly elevated parts of the territory where they grow millet. Their movement is dictated by tot and mai, the two seasons, which are characterized by rain and drought, respectively. Much of Nuerland is flooded during the rainy season between April and October, and this has caused the shifting of villages. During the dry season between November and March, resources become limited and sending most members of the family to the cattle camp is the norm. As a result of this seasonal migratory system, the Nuer have been characterized as transhumant.

Much of the civil war has been fought in the Nuer area, and that has been detrimental to village life. Whole villages were burned, and the displaced populations have moved from one place to another over the last two decades. In their villages, the Nuer build huts with round mud walls and conical grass roofs that are windowless and have small doors that force people to crawl into their homes. Recent oil exploration and development have brought disaster to Nuerland, and more villages have been burned since 1998 to create a secure buffer zone and make room for foreign oil companies.

Economy

Subsistence. The Nuer economy is based on a combination of, in order of importance, cattle herding, horticulture, fishing, and collecting wild foods. Cattle are the Nuer's most cherished possession, an essential food supply as well as the most important social asset. Cattle play an important role in rituals. Nuer institutions, customs, and social behavior are directly related to cattle. They are always talking about their animals, and cattle are involved in their folklore, marriage practices, religious ceremonies, and relations with neighbors. The Nuer believe that a cow should not be slaughtered except as a sacrifice to God, the spirits, and the ancestors. An ox can also be slaughtered to feed important guests at marriage ceremonies. In recent times more Nuer have slaughtered their livestock because of the famines that have afflicted the South Sudan, but in general they eat the meat of every animal after it dies.

Almost every Nuer cultural practice and social activity relates to livestock. The circulation of cattle between the members of a lineage dictates kin relations. Cattle and other types of livestock, such as goats and sheep, have a special position in religious ceremonies. Animals are sacrificed to treat illness; as a way of praying for rain, fertility, and a good crop yield; and to appease the ancestors. In addition to their economic utility, cattle are an end in themselves, and possessing and living with them is a Nuer man's ultimate desire. More than any other factor, they determine the Nuer's daily actions and, because of their wide range of social and economic uses, dominate people's attention. Livestock is the currency used in trading transactions.

Although the economy is based on a combination of cattle herding, horticulture, and fishing, pastoral pursuits take precedence because cattle not only provide daily nutrition but have a general social value in all other aspects of life. Traditionally, when there was shortage of food and nowhere to barter, people relied on collecting wild foods and fishing. Recently, the Nuer have engaged in trading as a source of subsistence. Wild foods are abundant during certain times of the year throughout Nuerland. Recent famines, displacement, and loss of assets because of the war have forced the Nuer to make gathering wild foods, trading, and fishing important components of their economy. Besides grain and dried fish, the Nuer do not have nonperishable food items that can be stored for extended periods. The goal of economic activity is to satisfy immediate dietary needs rather than to accumulate wealth. When a household can harvest surplus grain, it converts the proceeds into cattle.

The soil is black cotton soil that maintains its fertility at all times. People may use slash and burn horticulture if soil becomes eroded, which is rare. The main crops are millet (sorghum), maize, and vegetables. Agriculture is typically a horticultural activity in that the Nuer rotate crops and their tools are rudimentary ones, such as the hoe. New tools have been introduced by relief aid agencies to help displaced persons reestablish their livelihoods. The area of land that a household cultivates varies according its labor force. On average a Nuer household grows two acres. When crops fail in one area because of floods or drought, grains can be purchased from areas of surplus within Nuerland or in the towns where Arab traders keep shops.

Commercial Activities. Barter existed in Nuerland before there were markets, and a person who produced surplus food could exchange it for livestock. When the Nuer were introduced to items such as sugar, salt, clothes, medicine, and soap, it was difficult to acquire them since there was no paid labor and no other type of cash economy. The easiest way to buy those goods was to sell livestock in the city, but selling cattle was considered shameful. It was not until the British colonial government imposed a poll tax and insisted that it be paid in cash that the Nuer sold livestock. When Arab traders began to venture into Nuerland to sell a few of those items and later opened shops, grain became available. A few Nuer got involved in trading by selling old oxen in the city and then buying trade items and sometimes returning to the city to purchase more cows. Trading became another means to increase one's herd. However, in the 1970s, when the first civil war ended and reconstruction began, the Nuer found opportunities for paid labor in urban construction projects. Much of the money they made was used to buy basic supplies and cows.

Industrial Arts. The Nuer produce a variety of functional items, including clay pots, mats, decorated gourds used as eating utensils, and baskets. Sewing papyrus into smooth mats is a painstaking industrial art. Mats are the basic form of bedding.

Trade. Historically, trading was not an important aspect of Nuer economic activity until the middle of the twentieth century, when Arab traders went from village to village selling salt, cloth, beads, and medicine. Those items were purchased with small livestock or chickens, and when cash became available, women brewed beer to buy those items. When northern traders realized that the south, including Nuerland, was a good area for business, there was an influx of Arab goods and the markets grew. The Nuer have gotten involved in trading, but it is still largely a male preserve as it involves long-distance travel to acquire the goods, and because of the lack of security, such travel is limited to men. Goods are smuggled out of the north as well as from the neighboring countries of Kenya and Uganda. Over the last decade international humanitarian relief has facilitated trade by providing cargo space on trucks and planes.

Division of Labor. The division of labor is similar to that of the neighboring groups. In general, certain tasks are regarded as being for women and others as being for men, but there is a great deal of flexibility. Women's work tends to take place around the homestead or the village. It includes farming, food preparation, and care for the young and the very old. Men's work takes them farther from home, since it involves looking after cattle. In the field of food production, ideally both men and women plant crops. Women weed, thresh the grain, store and pound it into flour, and prepare meals. Men do the harvesting and graze the livestock far afield. Women, girls, and uninitiated boys milk the livestock. Construction of houses is generally shared. Men build the walls, cut and transport timber, and put up the frame, and both men and women thatch the grass roofs. The only areas of rigid sexual division of labor are milking the cows and cooking. Initiated men never, under ordinary circumstances, cook or milk cows.

Land Tenure. Land is communally owned. Individuals can take, tame, and use as much land as their labor capacity allows, and this continual use entitles people to land. If they move away, it can be taken over by others. When a household moves, it may demand payment from the next occupants as remuneration for the labor expended in taming it and for any dwelling structures that may be usable. The only land that is contested is the grazing plains. However, the actual grasslands are not restricted to any group, although the elevated camps where the people reside are assigned according to lineage.

Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. The Nuer are patrilineal, but people are considered to be related equally to their kin through both the mother's and the father's sides. Thus, descent can be best described as cognatic. The Nuer consider kinship the most important basis of social organization. People determine whether they are related by their clan names. The members of a clan share a totem and believe in their descent from that totem. It is also on the basis of clan membership that strong marriage or sexual prohibitions are established and enforced.

Kinship Terminology. Children have to learn kinship terminology at a very young age and apply it strictly in their daily interactions with adult relatives. It is the means by which individuals express respect for one another. Those who do not share an age set cannot address one another by their first names. Kinship terminology is intended to maintain the descent group, and descent organizes domestic life, socializes children, allows the transfer of property and ritual roles, and settles disputes. The responsibilities, obligations, and rights derived from descent membership and expressed through kinship terminology extend to many areas of life. The Nuer use bifurcate collateral terminology.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage and family are the most fundamental institutions and are a universal goal. Polygynous marriages are common. Marriages of members of any local group are usually the best way of creating links through women between persons from different communities. This practice makes maternal and affinal ties in kinship reconfigurations an essential aspect of kinship, as exogamous rules are strongly enforced on both sides. A man may not marry a close cognate. The Nuer consider that if any relationship can be traced between a man and a woman through the mother or father, marriage should not take place between those persons.

Courtship is permitted among people who have established the nonexistence of a consanguineal relationship. Courtship, which is always initiated by men, is the preferred method of finding a mate. After the male initiation ceremony, a young man takes on the full privileges and obligations of manhood in work, war, and play. Courtship and cattle become a young man's major interests, and he takes every opportunity to flirt. When it is his turn to get married, a Nuer man is asked by his family to identify which one of the girls he has courted he loves the most. Once the family has reached an agreement, the elders visit the woman's family to announce their intention and discuss the number of cattle to be paid in bride-wealth. The marriage is brought about by the payment of cattle, and every phase of the ritual is marked by the transfer or slaughter of cattle. Some couples may decide to elope, in which case the question of bride-wealth is settled later, but this method is risky and the two families may end up in a bloody battle.

Marriages are stable, and grounds for divorce are limited; a woman's failure to conceive is one of them. Since marriages involve the exchange of property, which is often contributed by different members of the extended family, individuals are not free to terminate marriages. Decisions regarding divorce are usually subjected to the scrutiny of both sides before they are finalized, as the groom's family has invested materially in the marriage and the bride's family does not want to lose the bride-wealth it has received.

Domestic Unit. A married couple may live with the man's family before moving out to establish their own home. The couple is free to live in a place of their choice, but residence with the man's family is preferred.

Socialization. Children are cared for by both of their parents, grandparents, and older siblings or any other relatives willing to do so. Boys are generally engaged in tasks concerning cattle and with serving the adults at the cattle camp. Girls are expected to identify with their mothers, who teach them about women's roles. Boys usually identify with their fathers, who initiate them into manly activities and teach them their responsibilities for work and war.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Nuer are organized around clans and lineages, with the lineage being a smaller segment of the clan. The degree to which people relate to one another is based on their kin relationship. The narrower the gap in structural distance is, the more likely it is that the relatives will share a village. Those members of a lineage who live in an area associated with it see themselves as a residential group, and the concept of lineage therefore functions through the political system. A clan has a headman. Several headmen are appointed as government subchiefs and serve under an executive chief. Nuer society is segementary. Group size can change according to political circumstances. For example, many clans may form a phratry and reside together if there is a need for collective defense and then break apart when that need ceases to exist.

Political Organization. The Nuer are divided into a number of subgroups that have no common organization or central administration. Those groups may be described politically as tribal sections. Some live in the homeland to the west of the Nile and can be distinguished from those that have migrated to the east of the river. Therefore, it is proper to distinguish between Western Nuer and Eastern Nuer. The Eastern Nuer may be further divided into those tribal sections living near the Zaraf River and those living to the north and south of the Sobat River. In each of these groups there are headmen, subchiefs, executive chiefs, and paramount chiefs. These are all politicized positions that emerged after the establishment of the nation. Traditionally, Nuer political and administrative structure relied on community elders who enforced norms and regulations through respect and fear.

Social Control. Homicide is common and is usually related to cattle. Murder can be immediately avenged or become the basis of blood feuds. The mechanism to deter homicide and revenge is blood wealth, which is payable in cattle. The norm is thirty cows paid to the family of the slain person.

Conflict. The Nuer's relationship with the Dinka has been based on a cycle of war and reconciliation because of cattle rustling or theft. There is a myth in which the two groups are represented as two sons of God, who promised his old cow to Dinka and its calf to Nuer. One night Dinka came and took the calf from God by imitating the voice of Nuer. When God realized that he had been cheated, he became angry and charged Nuer to avenge that act by endlessly raiding Dinka's cattle. Today the Nuer raid cattle and seize them openly by force of arms.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Although large numbers of Nuer converted to Christianity at the end of the twentieth century, the majority remain followers of traditional religions whose central tenet is the worship of a high god through the totem, ancestral spirits, and a number of deities. The high god is called Kuoth and is the source of life; below Kuoth is a host of earth deities. Nuer religious practice involves sacrifices of animals at designated times of the year, such as beginning of the rainy season, the blessing of the harvest, and the end of the year. At these prayer gatherings the religious practitioners call for peace and good human and animal health and fertility. Ancestral spirits are thought to be able to increase the productivity of the land, increase the number of cattle, and provide safety. They are believed to watch over the living, reward good behavior, and punish wrongdoing. They function as mediators between the dead and the living. There are times when the gods need to be appeased, especially when they are angered by human behavior, and rituals are performed on those occasions. All these practices were a source of misunderstanding between the Nuer and Christian missionaries, who initially believed that the Nuer were worshiping idols. However, as a result of the religious conflict between the north and the south of Sudan, Christianity has grown steadily among the Nuer and Christians are currently estimated at 30 percent of the Nuer population.

Religious Practitioners. The central figure in religious practice is the leopard-skin-chief, but there have been numerous prophets whom people have believed in, the highest of whom was Ngun Deng. He rose in Lou Nuer, and his pyramid is the most impressive religious monument in Nuerland. The practices of traditional religious leaders have been regarded as complemented by Christianity, and there is no conflict between Christianity and traditional religion. However, the Nuer believe that there is a contradiction between their traditional beliefs and Islam.

Ceremonies. The Nuer engage in elaborate social and religious ceremonies. Dancing and singing are crucial forms of entertainment, and dances give young people an opportunity to interact and court. Although the Nuer do not conduct elaborate burial ceremonies, the death of a spiritual leader is always marked by a huge celebration in which cattle camps gather and young men engage in mock battles, sing to their favorite oxen, and feast. In the past a well-known spiritual leader might be buried alive to prevent his soul from taking the good health of the whole society with him. When he was thought to be dying, cattle camps were moved to his house and celebrations went on for days, during which time he was kept near the grave until the appropriate time came to bury him.

Arts. The Nuer spent long hours engaging in body beautification practices such as painting the body with cow dung ash mixed with cow urine. Hairstyling is another time-consuming endeavor.

Medicine. Although biochemical medicines are available and the Nuer believe in their efficacy, traditional therapeutic medicine is still highly regarded. It is sometimes the only medical system available because of war. The therapeutic techniques used among the Nuer include various kinds of surgery, dispensing medicinal plants, and bone setting. These are all techniques that can be passed between the generations. Other practitioners whose skills are "god-given" practice healing methods throughout Nuerland. They include diviners who are believed to diagnose by communicating with the supernatural world. They are widely believed in, but the rising number of people who are familiar with the concept of germs, viruses, and parasites and understand the way biomedicine works have started to challenge them.

Death and Afterlife. When a person is alive, his or her soul is thought to roam during sleep. The soul must return before the person wakes up. This is how dreams are believed to happen; dreams are things the soul has encountered while roaming the world. Death means that the soul has failed to come back before the person has awakened, and so, realizing that it is too late to rejoin the body, it goes to join the souls of the relatives who have died before to live with them.

For the original article on the Nuer, see Volume 2, Oceania.

Bibliography

Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1940). The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

(1951). Kinship and Marriage among the Nuer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hutchinson, Sharon E. (1995). Nuer Dilemmas: Coping with War, Money and the State. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Jok, Jok Madut, and Sharon E. Hutchinson (1999). "Sudan: Prolonged Second Civil War and the Militarization of Nuer and Dinka Ethnic Identities," African Studies Review 42(2): 125-145.

JOK MADUT JOK

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Nuer

Nuer

ETHNONYM: Naath


Orientation

Identification and Location. The Nuer speak of themselves as "Naath," or "human beings." Nuerland is located in the southern Sudan between 7° and 10° N and 29° and 34° E. The main channel of the Nile River divides their country into western and eastern regions. Most of Nuerland consists of open savanna and is subject to considerable flooding during the two rainy seasons (April to June and July through October). In 1956 the Nuer were estimated to number in the range of 450,000 persons, with an average population density of approximately 2.8 persons per square kilometer, a figure that varies considerably in the wet and dry seasons.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Nuer speak a Nilotic dialect most closely related to Atuot. Nuer, Dinka, and Atuot have been conventionally defined as a distinct subgroup. There are no significant subdialects of Nuer.


History and Cultural Relations

Nuer living to the east of the Nile speak of their western relatives as "homeland Nuer" and have a consistent oral tradition indicating that their expansion across the Nile, as far as the Ethiopian border, has a 200-year legacy. In the process of this expansion, they forced the Anuak to migrate farther east into Ethiopia, and incorporated many Dinka into Nuer communities. Nuer versed in such matters suggest that at one time three "brothers"Nuer, Dinka, and Atuotonce lived in a neighboring territory. Legends suggest that they parted company to go their own ways following a dispute about the rightful ownership of a number of cattle. Both Atuot and Nuer traditions indicate that this separation and initial migration originated in a cattle camp in what is now termed western "Nuerland." These legends of migration sometimes have mythical properties, but it is prudent to appreciate them also for their historical character. It is certain that the Nuer, Dinka, and Atuot have a common "origin," and archaeological research may indicate that the spread of domesticated cattle in this region of Africa was contemporaneous with the origin of distinct ethnic identities. An especially active period of Nuer eastward migration began in the middle of the nineteenth century. Beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, British colonial policy in Nuerland was aimed at fixing boundaries between the Nuer and the Dinka, thus effectively halting a dynamic process of cultural change that had been unfolding for centuries.

Settlements

Traditional Nuer settlements take radically different form as a consequence of ecological changes throughout the year. In the rainy season, floods force Nuer to seek narrow strips of land above the flood line. During this period, women are engaged in the cultivation of millet and maize, the staple horticultural resources, and men pasture their large herds nearby. With the coming of the dry season, able-bodied men move their herds away from the elevated ridges, following, with their herds, the course of lowering riverbeds and channels. Thus, at the height of the dry season, the human population is most dispersed. At this time, agnatically conscripted groups live in cattle camps. With the coming of the new season's rains, herders commence a gradual process of transhumance back toward the elevated ridges, away from the rising rivers. Here, wet-season settlements form once again, and horticulture follows the regularity of the rains. Nuer huts in wet-season settlements consist of circular mud walls with thatched roofs. Temporary scaffoldings are made to dry the millet and maize as it is harvested. In the dry-season cattle camp, shelters are made from local grasses, as the need for protection from the elements is less pressing.


Economy

Nuer technology is simple in manufacture and sophisticated in suitability to the local environment. Like the Dinka and Stuot, Nuer carry out their economic life in a manner that highlights cultural conceptions of gender and the division of labor by sex. Wet-season homesteads, horticultural produce, and huts themselves have strongly feminine associations, whereas masculine images are associated with tending cattle and manufacturing the corresponding technological items. Staple crops consist of millet, maize, and introduced vegetables and groundnuts where soil conditions allow. Cattle are centrally important domesticates, and Nuer also pasture large flocks of sheep and goats. Nuer men enjoy occasional success in taking game animals such as antelopes, hippopotamuses, and elephants. No crops are produced for commercial or market purposes.


Kinship

Nuer domestic groups are based on the ideal of patrilateral descent. Kith should in some way be recognized as agnatic relatives. This principle is often confounded by the actual composition of local groups, but the ideal configuration persists across time. Nuer imagine that all adult males can claim ancestry to all other adult males, although in actuality neither domestic settlement patterns nor territorial segments conform to this ideal. Anthropologists continue to disagree about the significance of kinship and patrilineal descent in the organization of Nuer political and domestic life.


Marriage and Family

Marriage. All legal marital unions are recognized through the exchange of bride-wealth, in the form of cattle, between the husband's kin and the rightful claimants of these goods among the family of the bride. A standard ideal of forty head of cattle comprises the expected number of cattle to be received by the bride's family. In Nuer eyes, however, a marriage has not been finalized until the bride has given birth to at least two children. The actual exchange of bride-wealth cattle is thus a lengthy process and can be stalled or broken off by a number of phenomena. Once a third child has been born of the union, Nuer consider the marriage to be "tied." The woman has become a full member of her husband's agnatic lineage, along with her children. Through marriage, the continuity of the husband's lineage has been assured, and, following the birth of two or three children, the wife's role in expanding relationships of kinship has been realized.

Domestic Unit. As among neighboring peoples, commensality is the most consistent measure of moral solidarity at the domestic level. With luck, a woman may give birth to six children during her childbearing years. Co-wives do not necessarily reside in near proximity. When they do, the domestic unit can easily number more than a dozen individuals. Normally the bride is relocated in the husband's natal family following her marriage. Patrilateral residence thus further solidifies the patrilineal structure of Nuer communities.


Sociopolitical Organization

In a classic study by the late E. E. Evans-Pritchard (1940), Nuer political life was characterized as a system of fission and fusion. Lineage groups would bind together in some instances, and, in principle, the Nuer could conceive of all distinct descent groups uniting in this fashion. When disputes were localized, segmentation between smaller patrilineal groups would occur. Localized disputes, theft, or homicide were mediated by individuals called kwar (chiefs), whose words were effective because of their authority rather than their overt power. Chiefs could settle a dispute only once those in conflict agreed to a settlement. The introduction of secular chiefs and courts irrevocably changed traditional custom and usage.


Religion

As among the neighboring Dinka, religious thought and practice is a dialogue with a creator divinity the Nuer call "Kowth." This term has a variety of meanings, depending on the context. Indeed, understanding the contextual usage of the term "Kowth" is centrai to an appreciation of the complexity of Nuer religion. Evans-Pritchard wrote that although the Nuer lacked a tradition of embellished plastic arts, their intellectual life was complex. The Nuer believe that all life comes from Kowth and returns to the same divinity at death. The Nuer pray for health and well-being to Kowth, offering sacrifices of cattle in hopeful expectation that their sentiments may be realized. Whereas many individuals become diviners and healers (tiet ), there is no organized cult or hierarchy of religious functionaries. This fact is fully consistent with the aggressively egalitarian Nuer social ethics. Nuer religion is decidedly "this-worldly" in orientation; they do not imagine a heavenly abode awaiting them upon death. Like other Nilotic peoples, the Nuer regard long-deceased ancestors with respect and veneration, but are concerned in their earthly lives with the power of the recently deceased to cause misfortune. In sum, Nuer "religion" attends virtually every aspect of individual and social experience.

Bibliography

Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1940). The Nuer. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1951). Kinship and Marriage among the Nuer. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1956). Nuer Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

JOHN W. BURTON

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Nuer

NUER

people who live along the nile in sudan.

The Nuer, who call themselves the Nath, and their associated subgroup the Atuot are among the most numerous of the southern Sudanese Nilotic peoples. They live in the swamps and open savannas on both sides of the Nile south of Malakal in Sudan but have been seriously disrupted by protracted civil war in southern Sudan, waged most intensively since 1983. Culturally, they have a common origin with the Dinka, with common ties of pastoralism, intermarriage, and cultural borrowings. Periodic rivalries and conflicts have also characterized this relationship, including conflicts related to the resistance of the Sudan's People's Liberation Movement to the national government in Khartoum. The Nuer were the last of the Sudanese people to submit to British rule, and then only after a substantial military campaign in 1930, known as the Nuer Settlement. In more recent times the Nuer, some of whom have become well educated and politically active, have played an aggressive role in the southern Sudanese insurgency movement and remain the dominant military force in Nuerland.

see also dinka; sudanese civil wars.


Bibliography


Collins, Robert O. Shadows in the Grass: Britain in Southern Sudan, 19181956. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.

"Nuer." In Historical Dictionary of the Sudan, edited by Richard A. Lobban, Robert S. Kramer, and Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002.

robert o. collins
updated by carolyn fluehr-lobban

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"Nuer." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Nuer." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nuer-0

"Nuer." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nuer-0

Nuer

Nuer (nōō´ər, nŏŏr), a Nilotic people living around Lake No in South Sudan. Their economy and social life generally revolve around cattle, which are grazed on the plains during the dry season and in the hills during the wet season. During the dry season, the Nuer also fish, hunt, and gather wild plant foods. At their initiation, boys receive six horizontal cuts in the forehead and are given cattle; thereafter they belong to an age grade, with whom they will advance into various positions within the clan over the period of their lives. Descent is patrilineal, and when a man marries he receives more cattle from his father (see marriage and kinship). There is no centralized political authority, but rather a number of autonomous village communities. Spiritual leaders, known as leopard skin chiefs, are employed in the mediation of disputes. E. E. Evans-Pritchard's ethnography (1940) is the standard work on the Nuer.

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"Nuer." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Nuer." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nuer

"Nuer." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nuer

Nuer

NuerAmur, brewer, chewer, Dewar, doer, ewer, hewer, Kahlua, lassoer, Nuer, pursuer, renewer, screwer, sewer, skewer, skua, spewer, strewer, suer, tattooer, viewer, who're, wooer •evil-doer • wrongdoer • issuer •snowshoer • rescuer • interviewer

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"Nuer." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Nuer." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/nuer

"Nuer." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/nuer