Unknown Artist

Eláyaborr (shoulder shield)

Other titles:
Shield with human figure motif
Not on display
Further information

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, warfare between Mendi tribes and clans was endemic. The 'eláyaborr' shield, due to its small size and light weight, was commonly used in skirmishes and village raids, slung under the shoulder in battle to protect the torso and leaving both hands free for firing a bow and arrow. The U-shaped notch at the top allowed an archer to look through the gap to shoot.

This shield has a vine sling strung diagonally from the top left to lower right side (from the rear of the shield), knotted through two holes. Incised across the front surface is the outline form of a figure, with head, torso, arms and legs. A pattern of fine pecking covers the figure's torso. Australian anthropologist D'Arcy Ryan, who first undertook research in the Mendi region in 1954, noted that this scoring might indicate skin and body hair.

The meaning of these anthropomorphic figures is unclear, although anthropologist Paul Sillitoe's research among the Wola, who live to the west of the Mendi, indicates that the central reason warriors carved and painted anthopomorphic designs on their shields was to indicate an obligation to revenge the death of a relative. Revenge killings were central to the beliefs of many cultures of the Southern Highlands.

For further information see D'Arcy Ryan, 'Decorated fighting-shields from the Mendi Valley, Southern Highlands District of Papua', Mankind, vol 5, no 6, Oct 1958.

Natalie Wilson
Curator, Australian & Pacific Art

Place of origin
Bela, Mendi, Southern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea
Cultural origin
Mendi people
early 20th century
collected 1963
Arms & armour
wood, incised, vine sling
75.0 x 30.8 cm
Purchased 1977
Accession number