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]
mid 20th century
wood, punctated designs, white, red and blue pigments, vine sling
128.0 x 43.0 x 2.0 cm
Not on display
© Mendi people, under the endorsement of the Pacific Islands Museums Association's (PIMA) Code of Ethics
Shown in 3 exhibitions
Arts of Oceania: Seventh Adelaide Festival of Arts 1972, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Mar 1972–Mar 1972
Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 Oct 1974 -
Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 May 2014–10 Aug 2014
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. cat.no. 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. cat.no. 37