The Nuer is a film featuring the Nuer people who refer to themselves as the Naath. The Nuer people are Nilotes found in the Nile basin, which is today known as Ethiopia. The film, created in the 1900s, featured the people of Ciengach, Eastern Jikani, one of the sixteen Nuer tribes. During this period, the population of the Nuer as estimated by E.E.Evans Pritchard was around 250,000 though there have been significant adjustments to the population due to calamities such as civil wars, illnesses, famine and abandonment of traditions.
Herding is the people’s main activity. Cattle seem to be an important property to the Nuer to an extent that they referred to foreigners as bar that means ‘almost cattleless’, and Europeans were referred to as jur meaning ‘entirely cattleless’. These people’s lives revolve around their herds. Wealth is measured in terms of cows. They value inheritance, and they are religious since they believe that cattle should only be killed for a reason such as a sacrifice for a good harvest and in elevation of illnesses such as smallpox. They also practice an initiation ceremony, gar, for their boys by scaring their foreheads to indicate transition into manhood after which they change their names and obtain their first ox. They also practice ghost marriages, where it is possible for a man to ‘father’ even after his death by passing on cattle to show kinship relations. Continuity of a woman’s patrilineage was ensured by the male descendants using the cattle passed on to her lineage.
The economy of the Nuer revolves around their cattle, which are their major source of wealth, and men have the responsibility to take care of them. The society derives food, milk and dung for building their houses from the cattle. Cows are also passed on from one generation to another as inheritance and therefore cattle were the major way for the community to accumulate wealth. Cows are also used as bride price and are a major determinant on the viability of a man to marry. The more cattle a man had the better for him. In the Nuer society, the men and the boys have the duty to look after cattle. The value of women in this society is demonstrated by the amount of bride price paid in order to marry them, which shows that this community valued women.
The dominant theme in this film is the value attached to cattle by this community. Cattle are their source of wealth, bride price, inheritance, and the also have religious significance. Above all, cattle are their source of happiness. They also consume products derived from cattle such as dung, milk, and they use cow urine for cleaning purposes. The main event highlighted in the film is the gar, which is a rite of passage for the males in the community, characterized by scarring of the forehead.
This film shows the livelihood of the Nuer community and features its every aspect. Through it, we learn about the Nuer community extensively, their culture, religious beliefs, economy and social structure. They are portrayed as a remarkably simple community in their utilization of resources such as urine which many people view as waste, is used for cleaning purposes. They even brush their teeth using ash from dung. Their environment also depicts a very traditionally structured community; surrounded by cattle, traditional homesteads, use of traditional songs.