Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Nuer live in South Sudan. Their country is divided by the Nile River into western and eastern regions. The Nuer language is in the Nilotic branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family. Most of Nuerland consists of open savanna and subsistence is based on raising cattle, horticulture, fishing, and foraging. Cattle are central to the Nuer way of life. The settlement pattern includes living in villages on high ground during the rainy season and cattle camps during the dry season. Districts consist of several camps in communication with each other.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Eastern Africa


South Sudan

OWC Code


Number of Documents


Note: Select the Collection Documents tab above to browse documents.

Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The three major ethnographers of the Nuer represented in this collection are E. E. Evans-Pritchard (field work: 1930-1936), Douglas Johnson (1975-1990), and Sharon Hutchinson (1980-1992). Douglas Johnson's work is mostly historical covering the period of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1898-1955) with a focus on the role of prophets in Nuer social, political, and religious life (Johnson 1994, no. 17). The British failure to co-opt the Nuer prophets was a major reason Evan-Pritchard was sent into the field (1930-31). Out of this encounter he produced the classic monographs on Nuer ecology, subsistence, sociopolitical organization (Evans Pritchard 1940, no. 1; for a summary see Evans-Pritchard 1940, no. 10), kinship and marriage (Evans-Pritchard 1951, no. 2), and religion (Evans-Pritchard 1956, no. 16). In a series of shorter articles, Evans-Pritchard wrote about the Nuer kinship system (Evans-Pritchard 1933, no. 12), age-set system (Evans-Pritchard 1936, no. 9), economy (Evans-Pritchard 1938, no. 6), ghost marriage (Evans-Pritchard 1945, no. 11), bride-wealth (Evans-Pritchard 1946, no. 3; 1947, no 5), marriage ceremonies (Evans-Pritchard 1948, no. 4), and exogamy and incest (Evans-Pritchard 1949, no. 7). In a series of historical articles, Johnson critiques prevailing assumptions about the aggressive character of the Nuer (Johnson 1981, no. 21), their hostile relations with the Dinka (Johnson 1982, no. 19), and the arbitrary rule of the prophets (Johnson 1986, no. 20; 1992, no. 23). Hutchinson (1996, no. 18) examines the trying period of the Sudanese Civil War (1955-present) and the changes to Nuer society and culture wrought by money, war, and the state. She also has written on Nuer gender relations (Hutchinson 1980, no. 24). The missionary Huffman wrote a general monograph on Nuer culture (Huffman 1931, no. 14) and Howell (1954, no. 8) on Nuer customary law. Also included in this collection is Audrey Butt's article on the Nuer for the Ethnographic Survey of Africa, most of it a summary of the work of Evans-Pritchard. A major omission in this collection is Raymond Kelly's "The Nuer Conquest." Although a theoretically important work, it is largely based on ethnographic material already included in the collection.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary is based on the article "Nuer" by Jok Madut Jok, in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures Supplement, Melvin Ember, Carol R. Ember, and Ian Skoggard Editors. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2002. Ian Skoggard wrote the synopsis and indexing notes in January 2001.

Overview by

Ian Skoggard

BIEL--earth power--778, 823

BIER--blood letting rite--627, 782, 783

bull-boy--uninitiated man--884

CUONG--moral right--671

DAYIEMNI--minor prophets--792

DIEL--mixed, assimilated communities--563, 621


earth master--791, 793

GAR--initiation scar--304, 881


JOK--supernatural power--778

MAAR--bond of kinship--602

Moral community--185, 621

NUEER--sin, avenging blood--682, 826

Nuer Settlement (1929-1930)--648, 726


SPLA--Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Army--669, 631, 701

Sudanese Civil War--726



Indexing Notes by

Ian Skoggard

Close Box