Wooden war shield

Sulka people, Possibly early 20th century AD
From East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea

The Sulka people of East New Britain made wooden war shields, used to parry the blows from spears. This is a typical example, with a raised central boss and overlaid crossed cane strips. The internal hand grip at the back is carved by hollowing out the central area. The cane plaiting around the edge of the shield provides strength. There is a projectile point tip, probably from a spear, embedded inside the hand grip.

The shield is decorated on both the front and back with red, black and white pigments. The design has been interpreted as a face which may represent the face of a spirit who protected the user of the shield.

The Sulka stopped making shields for use in war in the early twentieth century due to the influence of German missionaries. Today brightly painted shields decorated with feathers are made for use in dances.

P. Benitez-Johannot and J.P. Barbier, Shields: Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania From the Collection of the Barbier-Mueller Museum (Munich, London, New York, Prestel, 2000)

G.A. Corbin, 'East New Britain' in Arts of the South Seas: the collections of the Musée Barbier-Mueller (Munich, London, New York, Prestel, 1999), pp. 25667

M. O'Hanlon, 'Medusa's art: interpreting Melanesian shields' in Protection, Power and Display: Shields of Island Southeast Asia and Melanesia (Boston College Museum of Art, 1995), pp. 7488

Find in the collection online

More information



Height: 117.000 cm
Width: 40.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 1954.Oc6.155


Gift of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum


Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore