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Shell-inlaid shield


Height: 87.000 cm
Width: 27.500 cm

Gift of the Trustees of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum

AOA 1954.Oc6.197

Africa, Oceania, Americas

    Shell-inlaid shield

    From Central Solomon Islands, around AD 1860

    This shield is made from plaited cane, overlaid with a putty made from parinarium nut, and inset with pieces of nautilus shell. Inlaid shields have not been made in the Solomon Islands since the middle of the nineteenth century and little is known about their manufacture, use or specific place of origin. Plain plaited cane shields were made and used in warfare on several of the islands in the Solomon Islands archipelago. They seem to have been produced mainly on Guadalcanal (an island later famous as the scene of a number of significant battles in the Second World War Pacific campaign). The inlay may well have been added to the plain cane shields some time after they were made, possibly by craftsmen from the island of Santa Isabel, who specialised in shell inlay. Solomon Islanders today continue to use shell inlay to decorate wooden artefacts of various kinds.

    Such shields were probably carried as a sign of prestige by important individuals. They may also have been exchanged as items of wealth. Most of the few examples that can be found in museum collections, including this shield, depict a human figure.

    D.B. Waite, 'Art and Ethnographica from the Solomon Islands in the Museum of Mankind' in Captain Cook and the South Pacific, British Museum Yearbook no. 3 (London, The British Museum Press, 1979), pp. 199239

    D.B. Waite, 'Shell-inlaid shields from the Solomon Islands' in Art and artists of Oceania (Palmerston North, Dunsmore Press, 1983), pp. 114-36


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