War shield from Karkar Island, Papua New Guinea

Karkar Island, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea
AD late 1800s

Shield damaged by battle

On Karkar Island, where this shield is from, neighbours were more likely to be enemies than friends. The rich, fertile soil of the island has always drawn people to settle there, but the land area is small. Until about 1900, when warfare was suppressed by Europeans, village groups competed fiercely for resources, and fighting was an everyday part of life. 

Despite its delicate and fragile rattan decorations, this shield was made to be used in battle. It is a narrow shield, which means warriors probably stood side-on whilst they were fighting. A stone from the sling of an enemy is still embedded in the wooden core of the shield about halfway down. 

Each society in the region has its own distinctive shield style. Shield designs may declare the status of the carrier, his strength as a warrior, or the spiritual resources he has supporting him.

Find in the collection online

More information



Weight: 3.1kg

Museum number



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore