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War shield from West Papua

South Asmat, West Papua
AD early 1900s

A Pacific shield with ancestral protection

This shield is from the South Asmat region of West Papua. The projection at the top of this shield represents a figure – an ancestor of the shield’s owner.

Shields from this region are named after honoured ancestors. The name gives protective powers to the shield, and strength and courage to its bearer. The bold colours and designs on a shield were also intended to fortify the bearer, as well as intimidate the enemy.

Shields would be used in fighting to extend, maintain or defend territory and to take the heads of enemies.

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. They also protect him from attack from slingshots, spears, arrows and clubs.

The shield was presented to the collector Lord Moyne by warriors from the Safan area, South Asmat, in 1935.

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