The Nuer are a Sudanese tribe that was immortalized through the famous study of Evans-Pritchard and his Nuer trilogy. In her study of the Nuer, Nuer Dilemmas, Sharon Hutchinson continues the story of the Nuer, a people that she meticulously observed and interacted with during the early 1980s, and briefly during the 1990s. By comparing the descriptions of the Nuer made by Evans-Pritchard and others with her own observations, Hutchinson shows that the Nuer way of life is not static, but has evolved to cope with the ideological changes brought by colonization, and the political upheavals that occurred in Sudan throughout the twentieth century.
The Nuer are an ethnic tribe who live in mostly rural areas in Southern Sudan.
[...] She also shows how the British government tried to dissuade homicides, which were more acceptable in Nuer society than ours, through, elimination of the dimension of negotiation and compromise in bloodwealth exchange, the introduction of capital punishment, terms of imprisonment, and collective fines as “deterrents” What I think is most interesting about this chapter is the way that Hutchinson links the introduction of government with that of guns, and how the government has , to impose “capital punishment or otherwise eliminate individuals who seriously challenged its monopolistic claims on the legitimate use of force.”[vi] The next two chapters deal with inter-gender relations and gender roles and also shows how, “social circulation of cattle was seen to take precedence over that of human blood in determining the significance, hierarchy, and scope of interpersonal relations among Nuer”[vii]. [...]
[...] In the next chapter, Hutchinson outlines the emergence of that is Nuer men who have not undergone the scarification ritual, as provoking society-wide reassessment and clarification of the role of initiation”[xvii]. She then goes on to describe, through anecdote, that though there is an emergent class of bull-boys they are not accepted by the grand majority of Nuer society. Also, the bull-boys were often part of an educated class which had access to or literacy[xviii]. The emergence of bull-boys and educated elite challenged the male social stratification which is another way the Western influences changed Nuer customs. [...]
[...] In conclusion, we can say that, by putting her anecdotal and observational evidence into the perspective of the works of earlier anthropologists, Hutchinson creates a persuasive image of the Nuer as a society in evolution, subject to the cultural tides of the world. Her study of the Nuer culture is complemented by the work of other researchers on the economy and social aspects of other African cultures. Hutchinson's work, based on observation, is very convincing and thorough, however, corroborating her observational evidence with more analytical work would have rendered her study even more conclusive. [...]
[...] Cattle are essential to the Nuer as they were an important food source, but also “cattle were the principal means by which people created and affirmed enduring bonds amongst themselves as well as between themselves and the divinity.”[ii] For example, men are the ones who control cattle, and thus assert their dominance over women. Furthermore, marriages cannot be conducted without the payment of “bridewealth cattle” from the husband's family to the wife's family, and when a homicide occurs, the killer must often pay “bloodwealth” cattle to the family of the deceased. [...]
[...] Indeed, the British colonization affected Nuer law in two different ways. First of all, the British attempted to instate some form of homogenized law across Sudan which inevitably affected Nuer law, such as the through the introduction of civil courts, the condemnation of ghost wives and adultery etc The second way the British influenced Nuer customs was simply by bringing them into contact with a completely different culture. The western culture, as well as the Arab one, forced the Nuer to reexamine traditions and culturally adapt to the impositions made by the British. [...]
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