Nuer Prophets

A History of Prophecy from the Upper Nile in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
Author(s): 
Johnson, Douglas H.
ISBN: 
0198233671
Date published: 
May 1997
Paperback
Price: 
£19.99
Pages: 
428

This is the first major study of the Nuer based on primary research since Evans-Pritchard's classic Nuer Religion. It is also the first full-length historical study of indigenous African prophets operating outside the context of the world's main religions, and as such builds on Evans-Prichard's pioneering work in promoting collaboration and dialogue be tween the disciplines of anthropology and history. Prophets first emerged as significant figures among the Nuer in the nineteenth century. They fashioned the religious idiom of prophecy from a range of spiritual ideas, and enunciated the social principles which broadened and sustained a moral community across political and ethnic boundaries. Douglas Johnson argues that, contrary to the standard anthropological interpretation, the major prophets' lasting contribution was their vision of peace, not their role in war. This vision is particularly relevant today, and the book concludes with a detailed discussion of events in the Sudan since independence in 1956, describing how modern Nuer, and many other southern Sudanese, still find the message of the nineteenth-century prophets relevant to their experiences in the current civil war. From the reviews: `Douglas H. Johnson's new primary study of Nuer prophets brings freshness to a huge second-order literature: what had become a seemingly secure reference point for a discipline in search of coherence, becomes again a challenge to disciplinary habit--and to habitual readings of an ancestral authority. With almost two decades of archival and oral-historical research under his belt, Johnson is uniquely positioned to interpret Nuer prophecy. . . . [He] shows repeatedly [that] prophecy remains a potent ingredient of inspiration and leadership in contemporary Nuer efforts to resist Khartoum. . . . Johnson has been careful in presenting readers with a wealth of information, and leeway to reformulate the problem as they go.' Sharon Hutchinson, Times Literary Supplement `This important work illuminates both the history of the Nuer and Nilotic Sudan . . . and the history of prophecy. It represents a decisive break with previous studies of the region which have portrayed a 'static' model of southern Sudanese societies. The quality of maps and photographs is excellent. In short, Nuer Prophets is a milestone in the historiography of the Upper Nile and a work which, because of its conceptual clarity and wealth of material, lends itself to comparative studies.' Institute of Ethiopian Studies `This is not merely a collection of Johnson's old articles but an entirely new work, comprehensive in its scope, coherent in its argument, and massive in its implications for African history and the history of African religion ... It is not possible to do justice to a book as rich as this one in the space of a short review ... The richness of Nuer Prophets is largely due to the exceptional quality of Johnson's fieldwork.' Journal of African History `It will certainly secure a permanent and respected place among great books on the so-called primitive societies.' SPLM/SPLA Update (Sudan)

Joint winner of the Amaury Talbot Prize for African Anthropology 1994

Well reviewed

Sheds much light on the background to the continuing war in the Sudan, focus of international attention.