In his book entitled, Nuer Religion, Pritchard discusses a variety of topics. But, this essay is mostly and purposely based on Nuer Sacrifice, the spear symbolism and the meaning of sacrifice.This book underlines the idea that the study and understanding of Nuer religion, especially Nuer sacrifices is somewhat complicated in so far as there is no way to find a formula that covers and explains all the variety of patterns and shades. Pritchard argues that there exist two different kinds of sacrifices: The piacular types and the confirmatory ones.
On one hand, confirmatory sacrifices are related to the interplay of social groups and social status changes. On the other hand, the piacular types are practiced when there is a misfortune or a danger caused by somebody’s fault that requires a spiritual intervention in human realm to get rid of the curse. It is also important to point out that the hidden meaning and purpose behind these sacrifices are expressed by words that convey thoughts of expiation.
Nuer sacrifices can be defined through three matrixes: the invocation, the consecration, the presentation, and immolation. Most often, the intention of the sacrificial ritual is expressed in the invocation and the spear that the officiant holds in his right hand. So if one would like to know and understand the purpose and the hidden intention of the Nuer sacrificial ritual, it can be found in the invocation. Pritchard beautifully put it in this way writing, “We have noted that the lam or invocation states the intention of the sacrifice.”
Furthermore, Nuer peculiar sacrifice brings to the fore the idea of identification or equivalence between an oxen and a human being in the sacrificial ritual. There is also the idea of substitution, that is, the replacement of a human being life by that of an animal. Moreover, the symbolic of spear represents masculinity. Pritchard writes, “The spear stands for masculinity. Women do not bear fighting-spears. The spear does not go with femininity.” It also symbolizes the energetic virtue of the man who officiates the sacrificial ritual.
The legacy of Pritchard can be defined and understood through the influence of the theories that he developed. His structural-functionalist approach, more precisely his ability to live with two African tribes by their customs and to study them from inside has become the blueprint approach among anthropologists who want to do field work in Africa. Pritchard’s legacy is also the idea that context matters. But, his work has some gaps or holes, especially his misuse of theological concepts to describe anthropomorphic aspects of Nuer religion.