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Pacific art

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early 20th century
collected circa 1957


Unknown Artist


Nuku lies in the southern foothills of the Torricelli Mountains, south of the coastal town of Aitape and north of Papua New Guinea's majestic Sepik River. Across the Sepik-Ramu region of PNG warfare was endemic in the period prior to contact with German colonisers in the late 19th century. Young men were not considered fully initiated into society until an enemy had been killed. Against an arsenal of bows and arrows, spears and spear throwers, a shield was a warriors only defence.

This war shield was collected at Nuku by Australian patrol officer John Cochrane, while stationed at Ambunti in 1957-59. Resembling a similar shield from Bongos village, now in the Australian Museum and acquired from H.D. Eve in 1938, this example is rectangular in shape and narrower at the base that at the top. A thick X-shaped handle at the rear of the shield fashioned from rattan cane, is held in place with vine threaded through four pairs of holes located at the lower and upper central face of the shield.

The carved design comprises two bands at the top and bottom sections, the lower filled with diamond shapes each with a hole at its centre. The upper band features irregularly carved triangular and quadrilaterial shapes, which resemble the outer fruit scales of the red pandanus (Pandanus conoideus), an important ritual plant used in many New Guinea societies. The main motif comprises an asymmetrical curvilinear design which may represent a squatting figure, similar to a shield recorded by Barry Craig from Namaisum village near Drikikir and formerly in the collection of Wayne Heathcote.

For further information see 'Washkuk Hills-Dreikikir-Maprik area' by Barry Craig, in Harry Beran and Barry Craig (eds) 'Shield of Melanesia', Crawford House Publishing, 2005.


Cultural origin

Ambrak people


early 20th century
collected circa 1957

Media category

Arms & armour

Materials used

wood, incised


138.5 x 42.5 cm :

0 - Whole, 138.5 cm (54 1/2")

0 - Whole, 42.5 cm (16 3/4")


Purchased 1976


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


Ian North (Editor), Special exhibitions at the Art Gallery of South Australia: Seventh Adelaide Festival of Arts 1972, Adelaide, 1972. 'Art of Oceania' exhibition; 173