Nuer scales

The work of E.E Evans-Pritchard, the now somewhat old-fashioned, but utterly meticulous and detailed anthropologist, and I, have crossed but once. As an undergraduate I studied the first of his books from his fieldwork with the Nuer, a people of the Nile Valley

What follows are fragments of notes I took at the time.
…scales, from the smallest to the largest:

Level 1: everything including common name, common territory

(clan) moral obligation to unite in war.

Level 4 (tribal): moral obligation to settle disputes, common law recognised, common kinship sentient.

Level 5: (pan-tribal): alliance, common tradition, common tribal identity, history and myth.

The Nuer have no leader: EP tried to convince administrators of this, that there was no point looking for leaders.

Stateless society

  • no overarching central authority
  • threatened use of force the central sanction
  • ritual mediation and sanctions (threat, ritual pollution, prohibition on commensality – from Latin, meaning ‘sharing the same table’ –¬†between clansmen)
  • minimal law: the moral obligation to settle disputes
  • pervasive moral ideas about kinship and right and wrong (in order to mobilise support)


Law enforcement = moral right + community support + force + spatial/social proximity.

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