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Pacific art

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Eláyaborr (shoulder shield)

early 20th century
collected 1963


Unknown Artist


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.

Natalie Wilson
Curator, Australian & Pacific Art


Other Title

Shield with human figure motif

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


Referenced in 1 publication


Tony Tuckson, Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Sydney, 1973, 50. H22