Nuer Field Project

Nouns Verbs Verb Book Expressions Pedagogical Grammar of Nuer Translation of Genesis in Nuer Others

A Note About Nuer Studies

Very little scholarly material exists about Southern Sudan, which can be readily explained given the unstable political situation and 50 plus years of civil war in the region; yet, the Nuer are known to most students of anthropology. In fact, it has been pointed out that the Nuer may well be the most important case study in the history of anthropology. This is a result of Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard’s classic studies from the 1930s. He was the first anthropologist working in Africa who used research methods based on long-term fieldwork and participant observation. Based on his fieldwork among the Nuer he published three ethnographies which are now classics in the field and studied by many students of anthropology (Evans-Pritchard 1940; 1951; 1956). In fact, he dedicated one of his books to the "staff of the American Mission at Nasser", which is where Ms. Vandevort was stationed. Jon Holtzman, author of a book about Nuer immigrants in the U.S. (Holtzman 2000), points out that "virtually all introductory textbooks in anthropology make reference (and usually multiple reference) to the Nuer as a central example for various aspects of human culture."

Even though the Nuer are familiar to anthropologists, studies about them are scarce. There are various studies re-interpreting Evans-Pritchard’s earlier works, and in 1968 Ms. Vandevort published A Leopard Tamed in which she writes about her 13 years of missionary work among the Nuer (Vandevort 1968). Another Nasir missionary, Ray Huffman, also published an ethnography in 1931 (Huffman 1931). It is just recently that studies have been published on other aspects of Nuer life, analyzing aspects not mentioned in Evans-Pritchard’s work. Most important among recent first-hand research and bibliographies is the work of Sharon Hutchinson who carried out extended field work among the Nuer in the mid 1980s/early 1990s (Hutchinson 1996). Her work explores gender relations among the Nuer as well as changes in Nuer life since the 1930s. In the bibliography of her book, she cites Ms. Vandevort’s earlier published book, A Leopard Tamed. Other important recent first-hand research and bibliographies on the Nuer were published by Douglas Johnson (Johnson 1994). Johnson also edited a volume of documents on the Nuer written by a colonial administrator, Percy Coriat. In his preface to the book, Johnson notes that he wanted to provide access to these unknown documents as sources of Nuer history and administrative history of the Southern Sudan (Johnson 1993). The electronic publication of Eleanor Vandevort’s notes will provide access to previously unknown materials in a similar way.

Apart from those ethnographic studies, there are two works which describe the missionary history of the Nuer, one of which cites Ms. Vandevort’s publication (Sanderson and Sanderson 1981). Moreover, there are several publications which either are linguistic treatments of Nuer, pedagogical materials, or Biblical translations (Westermann 1912; Stigand 1923; Rejaf Language Conference 1928; Huffman 1929; Huffman 1931; Crazzolara 1933; Kiggen 1948; Roy, Vandevort, and Robb 1968; Puoc, Deeng, and Kulan 1994; Yigezu 1995; Lester et al. 1996; Lester et al. 1999; Kulan and Pal 1999; Frank 1999; plus proceedings from 3 language conferences and 7 unpublished Nuer primers by Marian Farquhar). The five missionaries from Nasir who have done work in this area are Ray Huffman, Blanche Soule, Eleanor Vandevort, Robb McLaughlin, and Marian Farquhar. Ray Huffman apparently had a scholarly relationship with Diedrich Westermann who wrote the first treatment of Nuer in 1912. There are clear parallels between Eleanor Vandevort’s and Ray Huffman’s ethnographies which is not surprising since they were similar figures, a generation apart. To this day, the Nuer language has not been fully analyzed, and linguistic publications on the topic are scarce.

Nuer Field Project Nouns Verbs Verb Book Expressions Grammar Genesis Others