African designs, £9.99
Length: 53.000 cm
Width: 35.000 cm
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Wooden shield for dancing (ndome)
Kikuyu, late 19th
Warriors in East Africa had many forms of decorations on their shields that conveyed a number of meanings: age, geographical location, lineage, military affinities and prowess. This type of 'heraldry' was undoubtedly more intricate and significant before the enforced migrations, resettlements and military restrictions of the colonial period.
In addition to shields used in battle, the Kikuyu also made shields for dancing, called ndome. They are carved out of a single piece of wood with a hole for the arm instead of a hand grip, and were worn on the upper left arm by boys prior to their initiation as junior warriors. Each year the boys of a particular territorial unit would choose a design which they later used for their war shields once they had achieved warrior status.
Shields of this type became family heirlooms, though the designs might be scraped off and repainted many times as each new generation of boys prepared for their initiation.
C.J. Spring, African arms and armour (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)