Wooden war shield


British Museum

British Museum

The Sulka people of East New Britain made wooden war shields, used to parry the blows from spears. This is a typical example, with a raised central boss and overlaid crossed cane strips. The internal hand grip at the back is carved by hollowing out the central area. The cane plaiting around the edge of the shield provides strength. There is a projectile point tip, probably from a spear, embedded inside the hand grip.

The shield is decorated on both the front and back with red, black and white pigments. The design has been interpreted as a face which may represent the face of a spirit who protected the user of the shield.

The Sulka stopped making shields for use in war in the early twentieth century due to the influence of German missionaries. Today brightly painted shields decorated with feathers are made for use in dances.

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  • Title: Wooden war shield
  • Date Created: 1900/1950
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 117.00cm; Width: 40.00cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: carved; pigmented
  • Registration number: Oc1954,06.155
  • Place: Found/Acquired Sulka
  • Peoples: Made by Sulka
  • Other information: Cultural rights may apply.
  • Material: wood; bamboo; cane
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Wellcome Historical Medical Museum