British Museum collections, £12.99
Bowman’s shield from Papua New Guinea
Maiva area, Gulf Province, Papua New
AD late 1800s
A shield for an archer from the western Pacific
This shield from the Maiva area in Papua New Guinea would have been used by a bowman. It is supported by a shoulder strap and has an arm slot at the top, which would allow a warrior to have both arms free for his bow and arrow.
The face painted on this shield represents the spirit of a particular ancestor, who would have helped to bring the warrior success in battle.
In the western Pacific, shields are not camouflaged but are instead decorated with bold and dazzling designs intended to intimidate the enemy.
Each society in the region has its own distinctive shield style. Shield designs may declare the status of the carrier, his strength as a warrior, or the spiritual resources he has supporting him. They also protect him from attack from slingshots, spears, arrows and clubs.
The Pacific is one of the most cultural diverse areas of the world, with more than 800 indigenous languages. Parts of this area have been settled for 50,000 years.