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Wörrumbi (shoulder shield)

mid 20th century
collected 1969


Unknown Artist


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). This 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.

[Exhibition text for 'Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands', AGNSW, 2014]


Cultural origin

Mendi people


mid 20th century
collected 1969

Media category

Arms & armour

Materials used

wood, punctated designs, white, red and blue pigments, vine sling


128.0 x 43.0 x 2.0 cm


Purchased 1977


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


John Baily., Special exhibitions at the Art Gallery of South Australia: Seventh Adelaide Festival of Arts 1972, 'Art of Oceania', Adelaide, 1972. 104; not paginated

Tony Tuckson, Melanesian art, Sydney, 1966, 30 (illus.), 50. H26; titled 'Shield'

Natalie Wilson (Editor), Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands, Sydney, 2014, 93 (colour illus.), 161. 37