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Eláyaborr (shoulder shield)

early 20th century
collected 1963


Mendi people

Papua New Guinea

No image
  • Details

    Other Title
    Shield with human figure motif
    Place where the work was made
    Bela Mendi Southern Highlands Province Papua New Guinea
    Cultural origin
    Mendi people
    early 20th century
    collected 1963
    Media category
    Arms & armour
    Materials used
    wood, incised, vine sling
    75.0 x 30.8 cm
    Purchased 1977
    Not on display
    Accession number
    Artist information
    Mendi people

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Prior to the arrival of Europeans, warfare between Mendi tribes and clans was endemic. The 'eláyaborr' shield, due to its small size and light weight, was commonly used in skirmishes and village raids, slung under the shoulder in battle to protect the torso and leaving both hands free for firing a bow and arrow. The U-shaped notch at the top allowed an archer to look through the gap to shoot.

    This shield has a vine sling strung diagonally from the top left to lower right side (from the rear of the shield), knotted through two holes. Incised across the front surface is the outline form of a figure, with head, torso, arms and legs. A pattern of fine pecking covers the figure's torso. Australian anthropologist D'Arcy Ryan, who first undertook research in the Mendi region in 1954, noted that this scoring might indicate skin and body hair.

    The meaning of these anthropomorphic figures is unclear, although anthropologist Paul Sillitoe's research among the Wola, who live to the west of the Mendi, indicates that the central reason warriors carved and painted anthopomorphic designs on their shields was to indicate an obligation to revenge the death of a relative. Revenge killings were central to the beliefs of many cultures of the Southern Highlands.

    For further information see D'Arcy Ryan, 'Decorated fighting-shields from the Mendi Valley, Southern Highlands District of Papua', Mankind, vol 5, no 6, Oct 1958.

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 1 publication

Other works by Mendi people

See all 7 works