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



early 20th century
collected 1969


Unknown Artist

No image
  • Details

    Place where the work was made
    Det Poroma District Southern Highlands Province Papua New Guinea
    Cultural origin
    Kewa people
    early 20th century
    collected 1969
    Media category
    Arms & armour
    Materials used
    wood, incised
    119.0 x 40.0 cm
    Gift of Jean Moriarty 1979
    Not on display
    Accession number
  • About

    Closely resembling the 'wörrumbi' shield of the Mendi people and the 'kolkol' or 'watumbiy' of the Wola to the north-west, this oval shoulder shield, collected by Stan Moriarty at Det Mission in the Poroma district of the Southern Highlands in 1969, would have been carried in large open lines of battle. As D'Arcy Ryan wrote in 1958, 'With the establishment of the "Pax Australiana", fighting has been strictly forbidden and has in fact ceased on any large or regular scale, although sporadic outburts still occur'.

    Carved from strong hardwood, the shield was carried over a warrior's shoulder using a vine sling hung from two holes in the centre of the panel, protecting him from arrows and spears. Many shields found in museums still retain the heads of arrows embedded in the wood.

    The design incised across the surface of this shield is anthropomorphic in appearance and unpainted. Two zigzag lines run horizantally across the left and right edges, abutting the 'torso', and punctated rows lie parallel to the incised lines of the 'arms' and 'legs'. Anthropologist Paul Sillitoe's research among the Wola 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 regarding Mendi shield design see D'Arcy Ryan, 'Some decorated fighting-shields from the Mendi Valley, Southern Highlands District of Papua', Mankind, vol 5, no 6, Oct 1958. For information on Wola shield design see Paul Sillitoe, 'The art of war: Wola shield designs', Man, vol 15, no 3, Sep 1980.