The Nuer Analysis

Decent Essays

John Hood ANTH 451 Writing Assignment 3 08 October 2014 In his work, The Nuer, E. E. Evans-Pritchard presents findings from his field research among the Nuer people of the Sudan in Africa. From the onset, it is clear that cows are regarded as being of extreme importance in Nuer society. The Nuer are a pastoral society, highly dependent upon their environment. The only labor in which the Nuer delight, Evans-Pritchard suggests, is the care of cows. Most social activities revolve around cattle, and he urges any research of the Nuer be focused on how cows relate to society. Names of individuals are often derived from cows, such as one's favorite cow, or the cow he or she happens to milk. The games children play are primarily cow-themed, …show more content…

He portrays pastoral cultures a "simple, single-minded, and conservative" -- though all in relation to the single object of the cow, in the case of the Nuer. He spends time passing judgment as to whether the Nuer are efficient pastors and farmers, yet how useful this information is in terms of data remains seemingly obscure. Without explaining how this relates to social theory, such comments appear to have the tone of colonialist ethnocentrism. While never explicitly stating so, Evans-Pritchard seems to be putting forth the cow as the most prominent symbol within the cognitive map of the Nuer. He mentions the extensive use by the Nuer of vocabulary relating to cattle, such as basic terms derived from patterning and horn shape. Even war, he paints here as largely a function of acquiring cows, though later he eludes to lineage and kinship also playing a factor. He ultimately suggests that the overall social idiom of the Nuer is bovine in …show more content…

He focuses on social solidarity, in a Durkheimian sense, stating that it is strongest at the village level. Tribes he portrays as effectively being military units, which have different rules for internal tribal fighting versus fighting other tribes. He illustrates that there is ultimately no central authority among the Nuer, especially within any nationalistic sense, yet the Nuer still view their overall culture as distinct from others. Evans-Pritchard does address the ways in which members of society may change tribes, as well as the ways tribes may change somewhat due to kinship fluctuation. He seems to portray the political system as a response to foreign policy needs, which is to say in the Nuer's perpetual war with the neighboring Dinka. A Nuer myth is offered in which this war against the Dinka is justified due to Dinka transgression against the supreme deity. He characterizes the war as a structural relationship recognizing a certain similarity in being between the Nuer and the Dinka. Here Evans-Pritchard again seems to fall into colonialist ethnocentricsm and cultural evolutionist theory by criticizing the Nuer for not being able to evolve to Western standards due to the their fixation on cattle and their political system designed for perpetual warfare. In this regard, the political

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