Prior to the arrival of Europeans, warfare between Mendi tribes and clans was rife. Wooden fighting shields were commonly carried in mass battles, where fighters decorated their bodies with oil, paint, feathers and leaves. The 'wörrumbi' was carried by bowmen in open lines of combat. Carved from a solid piece of hardwood, and slung from the shoulder by a strap threaded through the centre of the shield, the 'wörrumbi' was very effective against bone-tipped arrows and spears.
'Wörrumbi' shields are noted for their distinctive ridge or 'mesha' (spine), not present in this example. The 'mesha' forms a central axis for pecked, incised and painted forms that symmetrically cover the surface. The designs are believed to represent anthropomorphic figures and they are typically coloured with red ochre and white mineral pigment traded in from the west. This shield also has two small holes at the top to which bird plumes were secured.
Australian anthropologist D'Arcy Ryan, who first undertook research in the Mendi region in 1954, noted that most 'Wörrumbi' shields are covered with incised scoring that are generally coloured red and might indicate skin and body hair. The inverted crescent shape seen at the top of this shield represents a gold-lipped pearlshell, one of the most important forms of weath amoung the Mendi.
Shield with human figure and kina shell motif
early 20th century-mid 20th century
wood, rattan cane, vine handle, red-orange ochre, black and white pigments
131.2 x 37.0 x 3.0 cm
Not on display
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Art of Oceania: Seventh Adelaide Festival of Arts 1972, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 03 Mar 1972–25 Mar 1972
Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 Oct 1974 -
Referenced in 2 publications
Ian North (Editor), Special exhibitions at the Art Gallery of South Australia: Seventh Adelaide Festival of Arts 1972, Adelaide, 1972. cat.no. 102; titled 'Shield'
Tony Tuckson, Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Sydney, 1973, 30 (illus.), 50. cat.no. H24; titled 'Shield'