Painted metal shield, by Kaipel Ka

Wahgi people, AD 1980s
Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea

When inter-group warfare recommenced in the 1980s, people in the Wahgi area of the Highlands of Papua New Guinea started making fighting shields after a gap of fifty years. Wooden shields were used initially, but the subsequent introduction of guns into the conflict led some Wahgi men to replace them with metal ones made from car bodies or 44-gallon drums.Today the use of wooden shields indicates ritual restraint, as distinct from the metal shields required by the bloodier gun warfare.

The decoration of contemporary shields is also innovatory, involving acrylic or spray paints, and depicting aspects of modern life, as well as more traditional designs. Shields sometimes feature the name of the shield-carrier, in this case Kunump, whose reputed strength is recognized in the designations 'Superman' and 'Bulldozer'. The flames (near the base) and the fanged image are intended to terrify the enemy. The border of red triangles alludes to traditional taboos on associating with enemies. The shield was painted by Kaipel Ka ('KK'), a talented local sign writer, whose novel designs appear on many Wahgi shields. He discreetly advertises his sign writing business near the bottom of this shield ('Quality signs. Call in at Talu, KK sign').

Find in the collection online

Painted metal shield, by Kaipel Ka

© 2001 Kaipel Ka
Kaipel Ka, a painted metal shield

  • Kaipel Ka, the signwriter, with a wooden shield he has decorated. Photograph: Michael O'Hanlon.

    Kaipel Ka, the signwriter, with a wooden shield he has decorated. Photograph: Michael O'Hanlon.

 

More information

Bibliography

M. O'Hanlon, Paradise: portraying the New G (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)

Dimensions

Height: 171.000 cm
Width: 95.000 cm
Weight: 13.000 kg (approx.)

Museum number

AOA Ethno 1990.Oc9.18

EOC31031

Purchased with the assistance of The British Museum Friends

Location

Find in the collection online



Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore