The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Length: 65.000 cm
Gift of Julius L. Brenchley
Africa, Oceania, Americas
From Gela Island, Solomon Islands
Possibly early 19th century AD
Before the adoption of guns, the most commonly used weapons among Solomon Islanders were spears, clubs and bows and arrows. Various styles of shields were used, but they were generally small and light. The people of the islands of Guadalcanal and Florida favoured elliptical shields made from wickerwork of split cane or rattan. They were either plain, or decorated with a painted pattern using black pigment.
Elaborately decorated shields were also produced for ceremonial use, and were probably owned by community leaders. One style of ceremonial shield is decorated with inlay of small pieces of pearl-shell. The style of decoration of this example seems to be rarer, in which numerous cut pieces of shell are sewn onto the shield. Woven, dyed cane patterns decorate the centre of the shield. Only three similar shields are known in museum collections internationally.
Julius Brenchley sailed on the Pacific Islands cruise of HMS Curaçoa in 1865. The crew were in the Solomon Islands from 27 August to 10 September that year. Brenchley describes the acquisition of this shield in his published journal:
'They use shields here, light but strong; Sir William [Wiseman - commander of the ship] got one, afterwards in my possession, beautifully made, covered on one side with work presenting a variety of patterns consisting of small thin flat circles made from shells rubbed down and tied on. There was only one more shield of the kind, and the native bolted when he found that Sir William's coxswain wanted it.'
Brenchley described it as a chief's shield in his unpublished catalogue of his collection.
D.B. Waite, Artefacts from the Solomon Islands in the Julius L. Brenchley Collection (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
J.L. Brenchley, Jottings during the cruise of H.M.S. Curaçoa among the South Sea Islands in 1865 (London, Longmans & Co., 1865)
D.B. Waite, 'Shell-inlaid shields from the Solomon Islands' in Art and artists of Oceania (Palmerston North, Dunsmore Press, 1983), pp. 114-36