Evans-Pritchard (1953) the Sacrificial Role of Cattle Among the Nuer

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The Sacrificial Role of Cattle among the Nuer E. E. Evans-Pritchard Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 23, No. 3. (Jul., 1953), pp. 181-198. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0001-9720%28195307%2923%3A3%3C181%3ATSROCA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-1 Africa: Journal of the International African Institute is currently published by Edinburgh University Press.

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N my two books on the Nuer I gave some account of the importance of cattle in their economy and social life. I scarcely mentioned their role in religion as I did not wish to stray too far from the topics I was then discussing. I summarize very briefly what was said there before discussing their religious significance. Nuer are very largely dependent on the milk of their herds and, in their harsh environment, they probably could not live without them, any more than the cattle could survive without the care and protection of their owners. Their carcasses also furnish Nuer with meat, tools, ornaments, sleeping-hides, and various other objects of domestic use; and their sun-dried dung provides fuel for the great smouldering sm~tdges that give protection from mosquitoes to man and beast alike. Women are more interested in the cows, and this is natural for they have charge of milking and dairy work. Men's interest in the cows is rather for their use in obtaining wives, and they are interested in the oxen for the same reason, and also because they provide them with a means of display and, which is the matter I am about to discuss, a means of sacrifice. But for all Nuer-men, women, and children-cattle are their great treasure, a constant source of pride and joy, the occasion also of much foresight, of much anxiety, and of much quarrelling; and they are their intimate companions from birth to death. It is not difficult to understand, therefore, that Nuer give their cattle devoted attention, and it is not surprising that they talk more of cattle than of anything else and have a vast vocabulary relating to them and their needs. Nevertheless, though they are much attached to their beasts, we must beware of putting into Nuer minda a sentimentality about animals so often found among ourselves. In fact, they regard them as rather stupid creatures. Though I do not repeat all I have earlier said about the value cattle have for Nuer in mundane affairs, particularly in the milk they give and their use as bridewealth, and restrict myself here to a consideration of their religious significance, we must not for a moment forget that their religious significance is...
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