Unknown Artist

Fighting shield (snake ancestor design)

Location
Not on display
Further information

Fighting shields made by the peoples of the eastern highlands region of Papua New Guinea are generally rectangular with the top edge lined with leaves and bound with rattan cane. Many shields also held a 'headdress' of cassowary feathers, either spread across the top edge or attached fan-like at the apex.

Although relatively light, this shield was carved from a thick plank of wood. The surface has been delicately incised with an all-over pattern of vertical chevrons and closely resembles those on two shields in the Gallery's collection, previously owned by Stan Moriarty, and which were collected in the Aiyura Valley and made by the Tairora people. Across the front of the shield can be found numerous arrow heads. Shoulder slings are secured through two holes running through the centre of the plank, leaving the fighter's hands free to use a bow and arrow or other weapons. On the back of the shield hangs a cotton pouch, probably used to hold arrows.

The image painted in vivid orange, white and black pigments is said to represent an ancestral snake. Across the eastern highlands, ancient rock shelters containing painted motifs can still be found. In this region, outcrops are filled with drawings in charcoal and red, yellow and white pigments. Common motifs include human-lizard forms; variants of the circle; crosses; chains of triangles; chevrons and rectangular grids [1]. It is thought that these motifs may relate to those found on shields from this region.

[1] See Peter White, 'Archaeological excavations in New Guinea: an interim report', The Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol 74 no 1, March 1965; K.A. Wilde, 'Art of Ofafunga cave and some cave and rock art sites of the Sinofi area, Kainantu sub-province, Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea', Niugini Caver, vol 6, 1978; and Meredith Wilson, 'Picturing Pacific history: the rock-art of Vanuatu in a western Pacific context', PhD, ANU, 2002

Place of origin
Obura, Obura-Wonenara District, Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea
Cultural origin
Kamano or Tairora people
Year
circa 1930s
Media
Arms & armour
Medium
wood, incised zig-zag design, machine-made sling and pouch, plant fibre, rattan cane, red, black and white pigments
Dimensions
141.0 x 57.0 cm
Credit
Gift of Chris Boylan 2017. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number
59.2017