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The Nuer people are a Nilotic ethnic group primarily inhabiting the Nile Valley. They are concentrated in South Sudan, with some representatives also found in southwestern Ethiopia. They speak the Nuer language, which belongs to the Nilo-Saharan family.
The Nuer warriors are reputed warriors. Traditionally, many wielded weapons made of finely crafted iron.
The nature of relations among the various southern Sudanese tribes were greatly affected in the 19th century by the intrusion of Ottomans, Arabs, and eventually the British. Some ethnic groups made their accommodation with the imperial attackers and others did not, in effect pitting one southern ethnic group against another in the context of foreign rule. For example, some sections of the Dinka were more accommodating to British rule than were the Nuer. The Dinka treated the resisting Nuer as hostile, and hostility developed between the two groups as a result of their differing relationships to the British.
In 2006, the Nuer were the tribe that resisted disarmament most strongly. Members of the Nuer White Army, a group of armed youths often autonomous of tribal elders' authority, refused to lay down their weapons, which led SPLA soldiers to confiscate Nuer cattle, destroying their economy. The White Army was finally put down in mid-2006, though a successor organisation self-styling itself as a White Army formed in 2011 to fight the Murle tribe (see 2011–2012 South Sudan tribal clashes), as well as the SPLA and UNMISS.
Cattle have historically been of the highest symbolic, religious and economic value among the Nuer. Cattle are particularly important in their role as bride wealth, where they are given by a husband's lineage to his wife's lineage. It is this exchange of cattle which ensures that the children will be considered to belong to the husband's lineage and to his line of descent. The classical Nuer institution of ghost marriage, in which a man can "father" children after his death, is based on this ability of cattle exchanges to define relations of kinship and descent. In their turn, cattle given over to the wife's patrilineage enable the male children of that patrilineage to marry, and thereby ensure the continuity of her patrilineage. A barren woman can even take a wife of her own, whose children (obviously biologically fathered by men from outside unions) then become members of her patrilieage, and she is legally and culturally their father, allowing her to participate in reproduction in a metaphorical sense.
In the 1990s, Sharon Hutchinson returned to Nuerland to update Evans-Pritchard's account. She found that the Nuer had placed strict limits on the convertibility of money and cattle in order to preserve the special status of cattle as objects of bride wealth exchange and as mediators to the divine. She also found that as a result of endemic warfare with the Sudanese state, guns had acquired much of the symbolic and ritual importance previously held by cattle.
The Nuer receive facial markings (called gaar) as part of their initiation into adulthood. The pattern of Nuer scarification varies within specific subgroups. The most common initiation pattern among males consists of six parallel horizontal lines which are cut across the forehead with a razor, often with a dip in the lines above the nose. Dotted patterns are also common (especially among the Bul Nuer and among females).
Typical foods eaten by the Nuer tribe include beef, goat, cow's milk, mangos, and sorghum in one of three forms: "kop" finely ground, handled until balled and boiled, "wal wal" ground, lightly balled and boiled to a solid porridge, and injera, a large, pancake-like yeast-risen flatbread.
Because of the civil wars in Southern Sudan over the past 50 years, many Nuer have emigrated to Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere. Approximately 25,000 Nuer were resettled in the United States as refugees since the early 1990s, with many Nuer now residing in Nebraska, Minnesota, Sag Harbor, NY, Iowa, South Dakota, Tennessee, Georgia and many other states, and some of them living in Canada, mostly in Toronto, Kitchener, Edmonton, and Calgary. There are currently (2008) over 20,000 Southern Sudanese in Australia, perhaps a third of these Nuer.
Some important Nuer politicians are Bul Nyawan who fought against the Khartoum government in Bentiu; he was killed in 1985 by the current president of Sudan. Commander Ruai and Leah Diu Deng were responsible for the attack that forced Chevron to suspend activities in the oil field around 1982.