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


Fighting shield (gardens design)

pre 1930s


Fore people

Papua New Guinea

No image
  • Details

    Place where the work was made
    Okapa (Moke) Okapa District Eastern Highlands Province Papua New Guinea
    Cultural origin
    Fore people
    pre 1930s
    Media category
    Arms & armour
    Materials used
    wood, incised zig-zag design, sling and pouch, plant fibre, rattan cane, red and white pigments, remains of arrow heads
    132.0 x 51.0 cm
    Gift of Chris Boylan 2017. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
    Not on display
    Accession number
    Artist information
    Fore people

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Fighting shields made by the peoples of the eastern highlands region of Papua New Guinea are generally rectangular with the top edge lined with leaves and bound with rattan cane. Many shields also held a 'headdress' of cassowary feathers, either spread across the top edge or attached fan-like at the apex.

    Although relatively light, this shield was carved from a thick plank of wood. The surface has been delicately incised with an all-over pattern of vertical chevrons and closely resembles those on two shields in the Gallery's collection, previously owned by Stan Moriarty, and which were collected in the Aiyura Valley and made by the Tairora people. Shoulder slings are secured through two holes running through the centre of the plank, leaving the fighter's hands free to use a bow and arrow or other weapons. On the back of the shield hangs a cotton pouch, probably used to hold arrows.

    The image painted in vivid orange and white pigments is said to represent gardens. Across the eastern highlands, ancient rock shelters containing painted motifs can still be found. In this region, limestone and granite outcrops are filled with drawings in charcoal and red, yellow and white pigments. Common motifs include human-lizard forms; variants of the circle; crosses; chains of triangles; chevrons and rectangular grids [1]. It is thought that these motifs may relate to those found on shields from this region.

    [1] See Peter White, 'Archaeological excavations in New Guinea: an interim report', The Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol 74 no 1, March 1965; K.A. Wilde, 'Art of Ofafunga cave and some cave and rock art sites of the Sinofi area, Kainantu sub-province, Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea', Niugini Caver, vol 6, 1978; and Meredith Wilson, 'Picturing Pacific history: the rock-art of Vanuatu in a western Pacific context', PhD, ANU, 2002

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