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Judicial Regulation and Administrative Control: Customary Law and the Nuer, 1898–1954

  • Douglas H. Johnson

Abstract

Administrative commitment to customary law among the Nuer wavered under British rule. Its value was first briefly appreciated as a means of obtaining the effective submission of the people to government authority. By igio dissatisfaction with the rate of progress of submission led provincial officials to abandon active involvement in the settlement of internal disputes among the Nuer, but in doing so they ceased to have any real contact with the peoples they tried to govern. Withdrawal from settlement of internal cases made it impossible for administrators to arbitrate external disputes between the Nuer and their neighbours. In the 1920s government supervision of the settlement of disputes once again became a central part of administrative policy, and by the end of that decade customary law and leaders were subordinated to government control. Innovations from the 1920s to the 1940s were concerned mainly with procedure and enforcement. By the last decade of Anglo-Egyptian rule in the Sudan the administration of law had become the main function of Nuer administration, and reforms in the legal procedure meant reforms in the administrative structure.

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1 Coriat, P., ‘Notes on a paper on the Nuer read by Mr. D. [sic] Evans-Pritchard’, 1931, National Records Office, Khartoum [NRO], Dakhlia I 112/13/87; Howell, P. P., A Manual of Nuer Law (London, 1954), 2.

2 Howell, , Nuer Law, 2, 27.

3 Such a study is currently being undertaken by Sharon Hutchinson.

4 Evans-Pritchard, Cf. E. E., The Nuer (Oxford, 1940), 150176, and Nuer Religion (Oxford, 1956), 107112, 165173, 293–200; Howell, , Nuer Law, passim; Corfield, F. D., ‘Note on the origin of native authority among the Nuer with particular reference to the Jekany Dor’, 1935, NRO UNP 1/51/4; Alban, A. H. A., ‘Note on the indigenous basis of the present administrative system’, 26, 1935, Southern Records Office, Juba [SRO] UNP 32.B.I.

5 Evans-Pritchard, , Nuer Religion, 109.

6 Evans-Pritchard, , The Nuer, 163164.

7 O'sullivan, H. E. D., ‘Dinka laws and customs’, J. Royal Anthropological Inst., XL (1910), passim; Jackson, H. C., ‘The Nuer of the Upper Nile Province’, Sudan Notes and Records [SNR], vi, i (1923), 100.Howell, ( Nuer Law, 26) doubts that this was the case in homicide compensation.

8 Johnson, D. H., ‘Tribal boundaries and border wars: Nuer-Dinka relations in the Sobat and Zaraf valleys, c. 1860–1976’, Afr. Hist., xxiii (1982), 187189.

9 Johnson, D. H., ‘The fighting Nuer: primary sources and the origins of a stereotype’, Africa, LI, i (1981), 514516.

10 W. L. Sherratt, A/DC Zeraf Valley District to the governor, Malakal, 2 Nov. 1935, SRO UNP 32.B.I.

11 Johnson, , ‘Tribal boundaries and border wars’, 189190.

12 H. E. D. O'Sullivan, ‘Lau Nuers, 1906’ in D. H. Johnson (ed.), Conquering the Nuer: Documents in the Pacification of the Southern Sudan (forthcoming).

13 Warburg, G., The Sudan under Wingate (London, 1971), ch. 7.

14 Ibid., 133–136.

15 O'Sullivan, , ‘Lau Nuers’, and ‘Dinka laws and customs’, 175.

16 Sudan Intelligence Report [SIR] 72 (July-August 1900), 2.

17 Blewitt, , quoted in Johnson, D. H., ‘Ngundeng and the “Turuk”: two narratives compared’, History in Africa, ix (1982), 124125.

18 Matthews, G. E., ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1902’, Reports on the Finance, Administration and Condition of the Sudan [hereinafter GGR], 1902, 346; ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1908’, GGR 1908, 665.

19 Matthews, G. E., ‘Note on the Nuer question’, SIR 120 (July 1904), Appendix C., 7.

20 Matthews, G. E., ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1905’, GGR 1905, 151; Cameron, A. to Wilson, H. H., 9 May 1905, SIR 130 (May 1905), App. B., 6; Matthews, G. E., ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1906’, GGR 1906, 727.

21 H. H. Wilson, ‘Report by El Kaimakam H. H. Wilson Bey on a march from the Sobat (mouth of the Filus) to Bor’, 1905; G. E. Matthews, ‘Report on journey up the Zeraf valley to visit Nuer chief Diu’, 1907, and K. C. P. Struvé, ‘Report on administrative boundaries between the Twi Dinkas and Nuers (Mongalla and Upper Nile Province)’, all in Johnson, Conquering the Nuer.

22 Struve, ‘Report on administrative boundaries’.

23 Matthews, , ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1908’, 663.

24 Johnson, , ‘Tribal boundaries and border wars’, 191198.

25 P. Coriat, A/DC Lau to governor Upper Nile Province, 30 June 1926; DC Bor to DC Lau Nuer, 7 April 1936, both in SRO BD 66.8.3.

26 Woodward, F. W., ‘Annual report, Upper Nile Province, 1911’, GGR 1911, vol. 2, 247; Willis, C. A., ‘Handing over notes’, 12 March 1931, NRO Civsec 57/2/8.

27 A. H. Alban, DC Pibor to DC Bor, 26 November 1941, SRO BD 66.8.3.

28 See above, note 19.

29 Matthews, ‘Report on journey up the Zeraf valley to visit Nuer chief Diu’.

30 O'Sullivan, ‘Lau Nuers’.

31 Angus Cameron could report some thirty cases of bridewealth heard during a visit to the Khor Fullus Dinka (Cameron to Wilson, SIR 130 (May 1905), Appendix B). Woodward complained that on a tour of the Sobat Nuer he was able to hear only two cases, but he really heard the same case twice (Woodward, ‘Report on patrol in the Nuer country’, SIR 153 (April 1907) Appendix A.)

32 Matthews, , ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1905’, 149; ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1906’, 725.

33 Matthews, , ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1907, GGR 1907, 408; ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1908’, 664; Struvé, K. C. P., ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1909’, GGR 1909, 801.

34 O'Sullivan, , ‘Dinka laws and customs’, 175.

35 Struvé, , ‘Annual Report. Upper Nile Province, 1909’, 801.

36 O'Sullivan, ‘Lau Nuers’.

37 Matthews, , ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1906’, 727728; ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1907’, 402.

38 Woodward, F. W., ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1911’, 247.

39 C. H. Stigand to inspector, Nasser, 18 May 1918, Nasir office archives ENRC 66.A/2.

40 F. W. Woodward to Civil Secretary, 28 Oct. 1913, NRO UNP 1/12/101.

41 C. H. Stigand, ‘Report on Sobat valley Nuer’, May 1916, in Johnson, Conquering the Nuer.

42 Intelligence Department, ‘Note on military action and administration in the Nuer country’, 23 Nov. 1927, NRO Dakhlia 112/13/87.

43 For surveys of the development of native courts in the Sudan see: Cooke, B. K., ‘Native administration in practice: historical outline’, in Hamilton, J. A. Dec. (ed.), The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan from Within (London, 1935); Nuer, M. I. El, ‘The role of the native courts in the administration of justice in the Sudan’, SNR, XLI (1960); Collins, R. O., Shadows in the Grass (New Haven, 1983), 5362, 101104.

44 Hamilton, J. A. Dec., ‘Devolutionary principles of native administration’, in Hamilton, (ed.), The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan from Within, 181186.

45 ‘Policy of the Southern Sudan’, Civil Secretary to governor, Upper Nile Province, 1922, SRO UNP 66.E.4. The language is essentially that of ‘General statement of the policy in the Southern Sudan with regards to administration, religion and education’, 14 March 1927, NRO Civsec 1/9/31, quoted in Collins, 58.

46 Governor, Upper Nile Province, to Civil Secretary, 18 Feb. 1929, NRO UNP 1/44/329.

47 Struvé, K. C. P., ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1925’, Reports of Governors of Provinces for the Year 1925 (Khartoum, 1926), 414; Coriat, , ‘Notes on a paper on the Nuer’. Cf. also Johnson, ‘The fighting Nuer’, 514.

48 K. C. P. Struvé to Civil Secretary, 2 December 1922, NRO Civsec 1/2/6, and ‘Annual Report. Upper Nile Province, 1925’, 414.

49 Sudan Monthly Intelligence Report 343 (February 1923), 4.

50 Coriat, P., ‘The Gaweir Nuers’ (Khartoum, n.d. [1923]), 67.

51 Ibid., passim.

52 Percy Coriat, A/DC Lau, to governor Upper Nile Province, 30 June 1926, SRO BD 66.8.3.

53 ‘Précis of information concerning Gwep [sic] of Dengkur’, January 1921, NRO Dakhlia I 112/13/87; H. C. Jackson to Butts, 1927, in Johnson, Conquering the Nuer; Governor Upper Nile Province to senior inspector, 17 Jan. 1921, SRO UNP SCR 14.

54 K. C. P. Struve to Civil Secretary, 2 Dec. 1922, NRO Civsec 1/2/6.

55 Struve, ‘Annual report. Upper Nile Province, 1925’, 414415.

56 Johnson, D. H., ‘C. A. Willis and the “Cult of Deng”: a falsification of the ethno-graphic record’, History in Africa, XII (1985).

57 P. Coriat, ‘General report. Patrol S8 (Lau Nuer) 1928’, in Johnson, Conquering the Nuer.

58 Howell, , Nuer Law, 23.

59 C. Armine Willis, governor Upper Nile Province, 20 April 1928, Nasir office archives, END I.F.I&2, vol. I.

60 Evans-Pritchard, E. E., ‘The Nuer: tribe and clan’, SNR, xvii, i (1934) 3757; xviii, i (1935).

61 Jackson, H. C., ‘The Nuer of the Upper Nile Province’; Coriat, , ‘The Gaweir Nuers’.

62 Corfield, F. D., ‘Note on the origin of native authority among the Nuer’; W. L. Sherratt, A/DC Zeraf Valley District to governor Malakal, 2 Nov. 1935; Winder, J., ‘Note on the evolution of policy in regard to chiefs, sub-chiefs & headmen’, 1942, Nasir office archives, END I.F.I & 2 vol. i; Alban, A. H. A., ‘Note on the indigenous basis of the present administrative system’; Coriat, P., ‘Western Nuer District’, 1931, NRO Civsec 57/2/8.

63 Corfield, ‘Note on the origin of native authority among the Nuer’; Sherratt to governor Malakal, 2 Nov. 1935; Upper Nile Province Diary February-April 1935, January 1936, SRO BD 57-C.I; Coriat, P., ‘Southern (Abwong) District. Handing over notes’, 6 May 1929, Mss, Coriat., Rhodes House, Oxford; Coriat, P., ‘Western Nuer District’; [Romilly?] ‘Report Western Nuer 1929–1934’, Nasir office archives, END 66.A.I; ‘Nuer District Commissioners' Meeting, February 1st 1943’, (draft minutes), P. P. Howell, private papers.

64 Winder, ‘Note on the evolution of policy’. This system was extended to all Nuer districts, and the terminology was standardized only after the 1943 Nuer District Commissioners' meeting.

65 Howell, , Nuer Law, 37.

66 ‘Lou Nuer District. Handing over notes of Mr P. L. Roussel’, (1954), SRO LND 48.A.2; Roussel, P. L., ‘Some difficulties facing the establishment of local government among the Nuer people of the Sudan, with special reference to the Zeraf Island Rural District Council’, essay for Certificate of Public Administration [c. 1955], Tylor Library, Institute of Social Anthropology Oxford, PS.IV.F.2C.

67 Alban, ‘Note on the indigenous basis of the present administrative system’.

68 J. D. Tierney, A/DC Eastern District to the governor Malakal, 21 March 1932, NRO Dakhlia I 1/2/6; Corfield, , ‘Note on the origin of native authority among the Nuer’; Alban, , ‘Note on the indigenous basis of the present administrative system’; Sherratt to governor, 2 Nov. 1935.

69 Tierney to the governor, 21 March 1932; Alban, ‘Note on the indigenous basis of the present administrative system’; ‘Nuer District Commissioners Meetings, February 1st-5th 1943’, NRO Civsec 66/13/137.

70 ‘Extract from Zeraf Rural District Council Meeting held on 25.3.51’, SRO BD 66.8.3 (II).

71 Howell, , Nuer Law, 3637.

72 Ibid., 231.

73 J. Winder, ‘Some aspects of the administration of the Nuer tribes in the Zeraf District of the Upper Nile Province of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1938–42’, March 1978 (unpublished).

74 Howell, P. P., ‘A comparative study of customary law among cattle owning tribes in the Southern Sudan’ (D. Phil, thesis, Oxford University, 1949), ix.

75 Ibid., vii.

76 Howell, , Nuer Law, 27, and ‘A comparative study’, xvi-xvii.

77 Howell, , Nuer Law, 231.

78 Howell, , ‘A comparative study’, 636.

79 ‘The elders have cut the case, but people have not yet looked’, Godfrey Lienhardt, personal communication.

80 Lienhardt, R. G., ‘Getting your own back: themes in Nilotic myth’, in Beattie, J. H. M. & Lienhardt, R. G. (eds.), Studies in Social Anthropology (Oxford, 1975), 218220.

81 Ibid., 217.

82 ‘Nuer district commissioners' meeting’, (draft minutes); Bazett Lewis to Paul Howell, 21.12.42, P. P. Howell, private papers.

83 DC Bor to DC Lau Nuer, 7 April 1936, SRO BD 66.8.3; DC Zeraf District to governor Upper Nile Province, 9 March 1940; ‘Report on tribal meeting held at Fangak between 27.8.41 & 3.9.41’; DC Western Nuer to governor Upper Nile Province, 12 March 1942; ‘Record of Dinka chiefs meetings held at Fangak on June 22–30 1942’, all in SRO UNP 66.G.3/3; Upper Nile Province Monthly Diary, March 1936, SRO BD 57.C.I.

84 Howell, , ‘A comparative study’, 653.

85 ‘Nuer district commissioners' meetings, February 1st-5th, 1943’, NRO Civsec 66/13/137, and ‘Nuer district commissioners' meeting’, (draft minutes).

86 B. A. Lewis, ‘The Nuer political problem’, December 1944, SRO UNP 66.G.3/3.

87 Extract from private letter from Mr B. A. Lewis to Mr J. W. Robertson, dated 17 July 1944, NRO Civsec 66/13/137.

88 Lienhardt, Godfrey, ‘The Sudan - Aspects of the South: Government among some of the Nilotic peoples, 1947–1952’, Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford, xii, iii (1981), 193196.

89 Roussel, ‘Some difficulties facing the establishment of local government among the Nuer’.

* I am extremely grateful to the following for comments on an earlier draft of this paper: Gabriel Giet Jal, Sharon Hutchinson, John Winder, P. P. Howell and P. L. Roussel.

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