Nuer people

Total population
(Approximately 2,900,000 people)
Regions with significant populations
South Sudan, Ethiopia
Nuer language'
African Traditional Religion
Related ethnic groups
Dinka, other Nilotic peoples

The Nuer people are a Nilotic ethnic group primarily inhabiting the Nile Valley. They are concentrated in South Sudan, with some also found in southwestern Ethiopia. They speak the Nuer language, which belongs to the Nilo-Saharan family. The Nuer people have historically been under counted as a result semi-nomadic lifestyle the community engage, as well as lack of proper national statistic about the community.


The nature of relations among the various southern Sudanese tribes were greatly affected in the 19th century by the intrusion of Ottomans, Arabs, and eventually the British. Some ethnic groups made their accommodation with the colonizers 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 supported colonial oppression which was resisted by 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.[1]

In 2006, the Nuer were the tribe that resisted disarmament most strongly. Members of the Nuer White Army, a group of armed youths often autonomous of tribal elders' authority, refused to lay down their weapons, which led SPLA soldiers to confiscate Nuer cattle, destroying their economy. The White Army was finally put down in mid-2006,[2] though a successor organisation self-styling itself as a White Army formed in 2011 to fight the Murle tribe (see 2011–2012 South Sudan tribal clashes), as well as the Dinka and UNMISS.[3] Nuers have been fighting hard to preserve their lifestyle, economy, culture, religion and history in the way of continuous onslaught by Western supported and Christian Dinka tribes.


Cattle have historically been of the highest symbolic, religious and economic value among the Nuer. Cattle are particularly important in their role as bride wealth, 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. A barren woman can even take a wife of her own, whose children (obviously biologically fathered by men from outside unions) then become members of her patrilineage, and she is legally and culturally their father, allowing her to participate in reproduction in a metaphorical sense.

E. E. Evans-Pritchard studied the Nuer and made very detailed accounts of his interactions. He also describes Nuer cosmology and religion in his books.

Nuer Online indicates that, "Nuer (Nuäär) believes that God is the spirit of the sky or the spirit who is in the sky” Kuoth Nhial” (God in Heaven) the creator, but Nuers believe in the coming of God through rain, lightning and thunder, and that the rainbow is the necklace of God. The sun and the moon as well as other material entities are also manifestation or sign of God, who after all is a spirit.

The spirits of the air above are believed to be the most powerful of the lesser spirits, while there are also spirits associated with clan-spears names such as WiW, a spirit of war, associated with thunder. Nuers believe that when a man or a woman dies, the flesh, the life and the soul separate. The flesh is committed to the earth, while the breath or life goes back to God (Kuoth). The soul that signifies the human individuality and personality remains alive as a shadow or a reflection, and departs together with the ox sacrificed, to the place of the ghosts.".

In the 1990s, Sharon Hutchinson returned to Nuerland to update Evans-Pritchard's account. She found that the Nuer had placed strict limits on the convertibility of money and cattle in order to preserve the special status of cattle as objects of bride wealth 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 people speak the Nuer language / Thoknath which belongs to the Nilo-Saharan language phylum.

The Nuer receive facial markings (called gaar) as part of their initiation into adulthood. The pattern of Nuer scarification varies within specific subgroups. The most common initiation pattern among males consists of six parallel horizontal lines which are cut across the forehead with a razor, often with a dip in the lines above the nose. Dotted patterns are also common (especially among the Bul Nuer and among females).

Typical foods eaten by the Nuer tribe include beef, goat, cow's milk, mangos, and sorghum in one of three forms: "ko̱p" finely ground, handled until balled and boiled, "walwal" ground, lightly balled and boiled to a solid porridge, and injera / Yɔtyɔt, a large, pancake-like yeast-risen flatbread.

Because of the civil wars in Southern Sudan over the past 50 years, many Nuer have imigrated to Kenya, Ethiopia 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, Minnesota, Sag Harbor, NY, Iowa, South Dakota, Tennessee, Georgia and many other states, and some of them living in Canada, mostly in Toronto, Kitchener, Edmonton, and Calgary. There are currently (2008) over 20,000 Southern Sudanese in Australia, perhaps a third of these Nuer.

Nuer military and Political leaders

Some important Nuer politicians are Bul Nyawan who fought against the Khartoum government in Bentiu; he was killed in 1985 by the current president of Sudan. Commander Ruai and Leah Diu Deng were responsible for the attack that forced Chevron to suspend activities in the oil field around 1982.

Naming conventions

Most Nuer people are named after their cattle. The boys usually chose the name of their favorite cattle based on the form and color of the ox. The girls are named after the cows that they milk. Sometimes the cow names are passed down. (The Nuer, E.E. Evans-Pritchard)

See also

Further reading


  1. "Sudan - Non-Muslim Peoples". Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  2. Young, John (June 2007). "The White Army: An Introduction and Overview" (PDF). Small Arms Survey. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  3. "Sudan youth 'planning to attack tribe'". News24. 27 December 2011. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  4. Jon D. Holtzman. "Nuer Journeys, Nuer Lives: Sudanese Refugees in Minnesota". ISBN 9780205543328. Retrieved 2016-08-03.

External links

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