Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
War shield from Karkar Island, Papua New Guinea
Karkar Island, Madang Province, Papua New
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.