Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People

The second book ,The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People  was written in 1940 by Evans Pritchard.The Nuer are semi-nomadic cattle herdsmen living in marsh and savannah country in the southern Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.They form a congeries of tribes and since they have no chiefs and no legal institutions  the task which seemed to be of importance was to discover the principle of their tribal or political integration.

Nuer had a very simple material culture and were dependent on their environment and it became clear that the pursuit of a pastoral life in difficult conditions made a fairly wide political order necessary if they were to maintain their way of life.This political order is provided by the tribal structure.A study of the different local communities within a Nuer tribe revealed the fact  that each is identified politically with a lineage and that all these lineages are branches of a single clan.Each of the territorial divisions of tribe is thus coordinated with a corresponding branch of this dominant clan so that relations between the parts of a tribe both their separateness and their unity are conceptualized and expressed within a framework of values of descent.


Evans Pritchard discuss how the conceptualization of natural changes  as points of reference in time-reckoning is determined  by the rhythm of social activities and in part how the points are reflections of structural relations between social groups.The daily tasks of the kraal are the points of reference for each day and for longer periods than a day the points are the phases of other recurrent activities such as weeding or the seasonal movements of men and their herds.The passage of time is the succession of activities and their relations to one another.Time has not the same value at one season of the year that it has at another.Also since the Nuer have no abstract system of time-reckoning they do not think of time as something actual.They donot have to coordinate their activities with an abstract passage of time because their points of reference are the activities themselves.Thus in a certain month one makes the first fishing dams and forms the first cattle camps and since some is doing these things it must be that month or thereabouts.One does not make fishing dams because it is November,it is November because one makes fishing dams.

The larger periods of time are almost entirely structural.The events they relate are different for different groups of people so that each group has its own system of time-reckoning in addition to a common system which refers to events of outstanding significance to them all.Male Nuer are stratified by age into divisions or sets a new age-set starting about every 10 years.Nuer also reckon history in terms of their genealogies of descent.Events have a position in structure but no exact position in historical time as we understand.

Among the Nuer time is a conceptualization of the social structure and the points of reference in the system of reckoning are projections into the past of actual relations between groups of persons.It coordinates relationships rather than events. 

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