War Shield Ramu River Area Madang Province Papua New Guinea 19th C
This fine old shield is from the Rao People in the Middle Ramu River area in Madang Province of Papua New Guinea. Carved from a single piece of hardwood of elongated oval form. The beautifully carved designs in high relief consisting of an upraised and elongated triangular shape covered with incised designs. The designs are also on either side of the upraised triangular area. The designs are highlighted in red & white ochre painting. The shield is very old and considering it was collected in 1927 it is 19th Century & probably stone carved.
The designs on these shields are almost always stylised faces representing a mythical ancestor with great power to protect the shield owner in battle. Each shield had a personal name. Designs are also said to frighten the enemy into being stunned where they can be easily killed.
In the informative reference book : Shields of Melanesia 2005 edited by Harry Beran & Barry Craig, the chapter on Ramu River Shields pages 101 – 103 have some good information about them. This chapter 4.5 written by Dr Barry Craig states ” Shields from the Banaro and Rao people have been traded to different areas, not much cultural information about these shields has been published but Richard Thurnwald indicated in a sketch he made in 1916 that the shields were displayed on the sides of the walls of the Men’s Cult House at the rear where the Scared Flutes were stored “. Craig writes further ” there appear to be two relatively distinct types of shields and two sizes, defined by the size of triangular upraised ridge and the designs painted on either side of the wedge, both types of shields were made in two sizes being average 123cm x 48cm and the smaller version like this shield of 66cm x 26cm” In the book page 103 figure 4.40 is a photo of a similar but slightly smaller shield at 37.7cm x 17.3cm , these smaller shields were worn on the front of the chest protecting a warriors torso while leaving him free to use a bow and arrows.
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