An image of Vala saavi (canoe prow 'shield’)

attrib. Warambu Kasagaui

(Papua New Guinea  – )

Vala saavi (canoe prow 'shield’)

Other titles:
Canoe prow ornament for head hunting raids, Savi (canoe prow mask), Bowi sabi, Bowi savi
Not on display
Further information

Along the reaches of the Middle and Upper Sepik River, 'shields' were affixed to the prows of 'kauvala' (war canoes), both to protect warriors from stray arrows and spears and to frighten enemies. Made from the tough petioles of the sago palm set into a framework of thick rattan cane, the surface of this 'vala saavi' is painted with white, black and ochre pigments and fringed with 'tuvu' (cassowary feathers).

A wooden mask is attached to the lower section of the sago bark panels. Spiral motifs painted across the chin of the mask are said to represent conus shells, while the red, black and white chevrons at the top of the shield possibly depict the waves and ripples of the river.

[entry from Exhibition Guide for 'Melanesian art: redux', 2018, cat no 21]

Place of origin
Yentchan Village, Middle Sepik River, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea
Cultural origin
Iatmul people
mid 20th century
collected 1965
sago palm petioles, wood, shell fragments, natural pigments, cassowary feathers (Casuarius), cane
91.0 x 68.0 x 14.0 cm (excluding feathers)
Purchased 1965
Accession number