We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


Eláyaborr (shoulder shield)

early 20th century
collected 1963


Unknown Artist

No image
  • Details

    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 and pecked, plant fibre sling, white mineral pigment
    81.4 x 34.0 cm
    Gift of Jean Moriarty 1979
    Not on display
    Accession number
  • 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. A third hole along the centre right edge may have been incorrectly placed, causing imbalance when carried, so another was drilled further down.

    The outline of the design on this 'eláyaborr' is incised, with white mineral pigment filling the triangular shapes at the top and bottom of the shield, as well as the 'X' motif across the centre. A pattern of fine pecking covers much of the upper and lower surface of the shield. 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.

    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.