War shield - ROM2004_947_11


War shield

Maker: Western Highlands
Medium:Carved, painted wood
Geography: Western Highlands province, Jimi Valley, Papua New Guinea
Date: mid-20th century
62.6 × 14 × 157.2 cm
Object number: 969.330.309
On view
Gallery Location:Shreyas and Mina Ajmera Gallery of Africa, the Americas and Asia-Pacific
DescriptionThe clans of Papua New Guinea have engaged in warfare with each other for generations. Fighters carried shields such as the one pictured here to protect them from arrows and spears. Although the introduction of firearms has made wooden shields impractical in modern clan warfare, the shields are still made in certain areas of the highlands for use in traditional warfare. Designs were painted on the shields to enhance their powerful appearance. Before battle, a pig was killed, and the arrows, shields and spears were offered ceremonially to the ancestors. The pig’s blood was applied to the weapons and to the warriors’ bodies to ensure success and protection. When an enemy was killed, his body was quartered. The enemy clan members were called to come and carry the body away. Sometimes the underside of the shield was used to carry the body parts back to the village of the slain fighter. A broken arrow tip is embedded in this shield and indicates its actual use in warfare. Additional Reading: 1. O’Hanlon, Michael. 1993. Paradise: Portraying the New Guinea Highlands. London: British Museum. Pp. 64-68.
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