Nuer cattle bell

Nuer cattle bell
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan?]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
?Before 1858
Iron Metal , Animal Hide Skin , Bead , Glass
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Bent , Welded
Total L with cord = 293; bell body L = 85, W across top = 96, mouth W = 62, depth = 50, wall th = 1; clapper L = 97, base diam = 10; suspension hole L = 15, W = 8; suspension cord L = 370, diam = 5; bead diam = 3 mm [RTS 5/9/2005].
248.5 g
Other Owners:
Obtained by John Petherick in the Sudan in 1858 and shipped back to England in 1859. Subsequently obtained by Pitt Rivers, perhaps via auction as Petherick is known to have auctioned some of his collection through Mr Bullock of High Holborn, London, on 27
Field Collector:
John Petherick
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
Iron bell consisting of a broad body, formed from a rectangular sheet of iron, folded double over the top, then heated and hammered closed down either side. The sides have been flattened, but the central part of the body has been forced open to create a hollow interior that is lentoid in section. The upper part of this has been pierced with 2 large ovoid holes through either side, and a thick cord has been threaded through for suspension. This is composed of 2 hide strips, each twisted individually, then interwoven with one another. The ends would have probably been knotted together to form suspension loop, but are currently untied and beginning to unravel. There is a small, white glass ring bead wedged into the centre of this cord; this looks to be accidental, rather than an attempt at decoration.
Inside the body of the bell, a small iron loop has been hung from the cord, that in turn provides a seat for the clapper. The clapper is made from a thick iron rod, round in section, with a tapering upper body that has been bent over the iron ring, then pushed back against the body to form a closed loop. The rest of the body is cylindrical, with a rounded base, and hangs down below the lip of the bell. The sides of the clapper are worn, where they have rubbed against this lip. The object is essentially complete; one corner is damaged at the top, and the hide cord is unwinding at either end. The surface is currently a dark reddish brown colour, with some rust (Pantone Black 4C). It has a weight of 248.5 grams, and a total length of 293 mm. The bell body is 85 mm long, 96 mm wide across the top, and 62 mm wide and 50 mm deep across the mouth; the walls are 1 mm thick. The clapper is 97 mm long and has a base diameter of 10 mm. The suspension holes are 15 mm long and 8 mm wide, and the suspension cord has an extended length of 370 mm and a diameter of 5 mm; the bead has a diameter of 3 mm.

Obtained by John Petherick in the Sudan in 1858 and shipped back to England in 1859. Subsequently obtained by Pitt Rivers, perhaps via auction as Petherick is known to have auctioned some of his collection through Mr Bullock of High Holborn, London, on 27th June 1862 (see the Catalogue of the very interesting collection of arms and implements of war, husbandry, and the chase, and articles of costume and domestic use, procured during several expeditions up the White Nile, Bahr-il-Gazal, and among the various tribes of the country, to the cannibal Neam Nam territory on the Equator, by John Petherick, Esq., H.M. Consul, Khartoum, Soudan ), although this object could not be specifically matched to any of the lots in this catalogue (the 3 Dinka cattle bells most likely matching items 1884.108.10-12). Alternatively, it could have been acquired at a second auction of Petherick's material, which took place sometime after returning from the Sudan again in 1865. Pitt Rivers sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, as part of the first batch of objects sent there, probably in 1874. It became part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884.

This particular example does not appear in Petherick's unpublished sketchbook, now in the Wellcome Library (MS 5789), but it is illustrated in J.G. Wood, 1868, The Natural History of Man Volume I, p. 513 fig. 1; Wood does not attribute the item to any particular culture.

This type of bell was most probably hung around the necks of bulls and oxen.
Similar bells were also used to decorate Dinka cattle (see 1934.8.14 and 1979.20.103). They also appear in other cultures, such as the Ganda and Acholi of Uganda (M. Trowell & K.P. Wachsmann, 1953, Tribal Crafts of Uganda, pl. 77I; p. 327). Cattle bells were an early trade item in the Sudan; Petherick notes that this was one of the things the Shilluk received from Arab traders in exchange for slaves and ivory (J. Petherick, 1861, Egypt, The Sudan and Central Africa, p. 351). Amongst the Nuer, iron bells appear to have retained a high value; "Nuer have always been poor in iron objects. Till recently they possessed very few iron spears, cherished as heirlooms ... Iron bells ... are rare and highly prized even at the present time, and in the old days iron rings and bracelets were important pieces of property' (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940, The Nuer, p. 86).

Rachael Sparks 19/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book V entry [p. 45] - [insert] 1884.108 Numbers begining with 18... (4 figures) are black series) [end insert] MUSIC PERCUSSION [insert] From H.B's written book catalogues except those marked X [end insert] BELLS [insert] 6 [end insert] 1861 - Iron bell with clapper hung on a ring: used as a cattle bell. C. AFRICA [insert] Probably NUER [end insert] Petherick coll. 1858.
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 193] - PETHERICK, Consul [p. 197] [insert] 1884.108.6 [end insert] 1861. Iron bell used as cattle bell. C[entral] AFRICA. [insert] Probably NUER [end insert].
Black book entry [p. 81] - 1861. Iron cow bell. Obtd by Petherick. Cent[ral] Africa. [insert] 1884.108.6 or 7 [end insert]. [Note that 1884.108.7 seems to be linked to Black book entry 1863, RTS 4/12/2003].
Balfour Catalogue: Red numbers Musical Instruments - [p. 2] 129. MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS - PERCUSSION. [p. 157] L - BELLS (SWINGING CLAPPERS) [p. 160] P.R. coll. 1861 [insert] black [end insert]. Iron bell made from piece of sheet iron bent over on itself & the edges forming flanges welded together, two holes at top for twisted hide loop, to which is suspended by a ring an iron swinging clapper - used as a cattle bell. [insert] 1884.108.6. Probably NUER [end insert]. Central Africa. Obt[aine]d by Consul Petherick c. 1858. [insert] P.R.V.45, Coll. Misc. XI, 197 [end insert].
Card Catalogue Entry [tribes] - [information as in Balfour catalogue entry, with following insert] Ascribed by comparison with specimen collected by E.E. Evans-Pritchard, d.d. 1931 [RTS 23/7/2004] [music?] [as above, with further comment] - these bells are used by a number of the groups in this area.
Pitt Rivers Museum label - 1861 [pencil on rectangular piece of paper; stored in RDF]; AFRICA, Sudan. NUER tribe? Iron Cattle Bell. Coll. Petherick 1858. Original Pitt Rivers Founding Collection, 1884.108.6 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 5/9/2005 ].
Written on object - 129.L.4 [red ink; RTS 1/9/2005].

Display History:
Displayed in the Bethnal Green and South Kensington Museums (V&A) [AP]. This would appear to have been previously on display in the Pitt Rivers Music Gallery (Balfour Building 'D). Former display label reads: COW BELL WITH SWINGING CLAPPER. CENTRAL AFRICA. Petherick colln 1858. [insert] Probably Nuer [end insert] [rectangular card, hung on object with wire; object also had a copper museum hook for suspension, now removed; the label is stored in the Related Documents File; RTS 1/9/2005].

Publication History:
Illustrated in J.G. Wood, 1868, The Natural History of Man, p. 513 fig. 1. Wood does not give the bell any cultural attribution [RTS 5/9/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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