Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Height: 171.000 cm
Width: 95.000 cm
Weight: 13.000 kg (approx.)
Purchased with the assistance of
AOA Ethno 1990.Oc9.18
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Painted metal shield, by Kaipel Ka
Wahgi people, AD
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').
M. O'Hanlon, Paradise: portraying the New G (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)