Learn more about Nuer
The Nuer are a confederation of tribes located in Southern Sudan and western Ethiopia. Collectively, the Nuer form one of the largest ethnic groups in East Africa. They are a pastoral people that rely on cows for almost every aspect of their daily lives.
They are one of the very few African groups that successfully fended off colonial powers in the early 1900s. Nuer warriors were noted as some of the most skilled in East Africa, with weapons made of fine crafted iron. Since the Nuer were so successful at fending off European powers, they spent much of their time interacting with bordering groups like those of the Dinka and Anuaks. The Nuer, being very well organized, were often able to conduct cattle raids against the Dinka, a tribe larger in population. Their traditional political organization, presented to the outside world through the ethnographic work by Evans-Pritchard, has become a classic example of an indigenous anarchist political structure without a single leader or leader group.
The nature of relations among these various southern tribes were greatly affected in the nineteenth century by the intrusion of Ottomans, Arabs, and eventually the British. Some ethnic groups made their accommodation with the intruders and others did not, in effect pitting one southern ethnic group against another in the context of foreign rule. For example, some sections of the Dinka were more accommodating to British rule than were the Nuer. The Dinka treated the resisting Nuer as hostile, and hostility developed between the two groups as a result of their differing relationships to the British.
Cattle have historically been of the highest symbolic, religious and economic value among the Nuer. Cattle are particularly important in their role as bridewealth, where they are given by a husband's lineage to his wife's lineage. It is this exchange of cattle which ensures that the children will be considered to belong to the husband's lineage and to his line of descent. The classical Nuer institution of ghost marriage, in which a man can "father" children after his death, is based on this ability of cattle exchanges to define relations of kinship and descent. In their turn, cattle given over to the wife's patrilineage enable the male children of that patrilineage to marry, and thereby ensure the continuity of her patrilineage.
In the 1990's, Sharon Hutchinson returned to Nuerland to update Evans-Pritchard's account. She found that the Nuer had placed strict limits on the convertability of money and cattle in order to preserve the special status of cattle as objects of bridewealth exchange and as mediators to the divine. She also found that as a result of endemic warfare with the Sudanese state, guns had acquired much of the symbolic and ritual importance previously held by cattle.
The Nuer receive facial markings (called gaar) as part of their initiation into adulthood. The pattern of Nuer scarification varies within specific subgroups. One common initiation pattern consists of six parallel horizontal lines across the forehead, with dip in the lines above the nose. Dotted patterns are also common (especially among the Bul Nuer).
Because of the civil wars in Southern Sudan over the past 50 years, many Nuer have emigrated to Kenya and elsewhere. Approximately 25,000 Nuer were resettled in the United States as refugees since the early 1990s, with many Nuer now residing in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Tennessee, Georgia, and many other states.
 Naming conventions
- Nya (nee ya) meaning daughter of is the standard prefix used for female names. Gat, meaning son of, is a common prefix for male names.
- Children are commonly numbered
- Niel means rain, and is a common name for males.
- The father's family name is incorporated into the child's full name
 See also
 External links
- Sudan Emancipation & Preservation Network (SEPNet)
- Images of Nuer in the village of Leal, Southern Sudan
 Books and Other Resources
See works of Evans-Pritchard.
More recent publications related to the Nuer include:
- Sharon Hutchinson, 1996, Nuer Dilemma's, University of California Press, Berkley, CA.
- Deborah Scroggin's, 2004, Emma's War, Pantheon Books, New Yorkca:Nuer