WHAT ARE THEY?
Shields, depending on their shape and design, can be used as a defence against throwing spears and clubs or for close combat. Smaller shields were worn as body armour. They can also have ceremonial uses.
WHERE ARE THEY MADE ?
Shields are made across Papua New Guinea, but have a particularly abundant number of forms in the Highlands and Sepik regions, where warfare was once common. You can get a first indication of a shield’s origins from its shape: for example, Sulka and Mendi shields are oval, Trobriand Island shields are pear shaped, and Kandrian and Telefomin shields are rectangular.
WHO MAKES THEM?
Shields are usually made by the warriors. In some places, such as the Trobriand Islands, only the most skilled warriors had the right to make and carry the best and most elaborately decorated shields.
HOW ARE THEY MADE ?
Shields are carved from wood and may be smooth or have raised bosses. Kandrian shields are made from three wooden planks lashed together with rattan, and in some regions shields were once made from bark. Because of their fragility, these are now quite rare. Sulka shields are covered with criss-crossed cane to help absorb blows from clubs. Adze marks generally indicate an older shield made with stone tools, as most modern (post-World War 2) shields are carved with metal implements. Loop handles on the back are generally made from rattan cane.
HOW ARE THEY DE CORA TED ?
Shield decoration varies widely from region to region, but in general features bright colours and striking designs that are created to intimidate the enemy, convey a spiritual message, or represent the particular culture of the bearer. Representations of nature such as flying foxes, conus shells or turtles are common motifs. However, Telefomin shields are striking for their angular geometric patterns, while Sepik shields often depict human or spirit faces. Shields from the Trobriand Islands are often considered PNG’s most elegant, as they have very detailed motifs. From the 1970s, contemporary, foreign influences have been felt on shield design, the most famous being Mount Hagen shields depicting the comic-book hero Phantom.
HOW WERE THEY USED TRADI TIONALLY?
PNG warriors did not carry shields on the forearm like medieval knights, but slung them over their shoulder to protect their side, while leaving both hands free for using weapons – more as body armour than an actual shield. Such shields have a distinctive notch at the top to fit under the armpit. In contrast, the much larger atkom shields were carried into battle by unarmed shield bearers and used to shelter bowmen who stood in a line behind. Shields were often given personal names and were considered by some groups to be a receptacle of ancestral power. Not all were used in warfare, with some shields reserved for ceremony.
WHERE CAN SHIE LDS BE BOUGHT?
You can find shields made for tourists in craft shops, and antique versions in more upmarket galleries. Fine examples sometimes go under the hammer at international auction houses for tens of thousands of dollars.