Hide shield (ayar)

Tuareg, early 20th century AD
From the western Sahara, Africa

Tuareg weaponry includes a large white leather shield, ayar, a lance, a sword and an arm dagger. The sword and shield were reserved for the Ihaggaren class. The shields were made by specialists from the skin of a gazelle-like animal called a lamt, found only in this region. The skin is tanned with milk and the shell of ostrich eggs for a year. It is believed that this makes the shield impermeable to iron, thus swords would make no impression. If scratched or dented, the shield is damped with water and rubbed with the hand to make the mark disappear.

The star-shaped central motif, formed by thousands of tiny incised marks, may be an invocation in the Tuareg script, tifinar. Together with the 'hot' metal studs of brass and copper and pieces of red cloth, this invocation empowers the shield to defend its owner against the evil eye and the 'cold' iron weapons of his enemies. The shape of the shield is described in terms of the female form, additionally providing an image of life and fertility to counter the sterile, deadly qualities of iron.

Through trade and warfare, North Africa has long been an area of contact and exchange between diverse religious and cultural ideologies. Trade routes across the Sahara enabled cross-fertilization between Europe, the Middle East, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. This took place in the successive civilisations of North Africa: those of ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, Greece, Rome, Hispano-Moorish, Mamluk and Ottoman.

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More information


C.J. Spring, African arms and armour (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)


Height: 114.000 cm

Museum number

AOA Ethno 1990.Af11.1



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