Parrying shield karbinna
Lagrange Bay (Kimberley), Western Australia
Height: 31 in. – 79 cm
Ex private collection, Paris
These shields functioned as defensive arms to intercept boomerangs and to parry blows from clubs during close combat. The Karajarri later valued them as trade items which they exchanged with other peoples throughout the coastal areas from La Grange northward to Dampierland and King Sound.
The Karajarri engraved the back of their shields with precise patterns. Not having a larger design in mind, they treated the space as important in itself and often incised surfaces not covered by the interlocking pattern using alternate series of diagonal hatchings ... They carved the face of their shields with fine grooves but also, in more recent examples, simply adzed them to a smooth finish.
The motifs on the surface of the shield were totemic symbols related to the "songlines".
In his 1987 book The Songlines, British novelist and travel writer, Bruce Chatwin describes the songlines as:
"...the labyrinth of invisible pathways which meander all over Australia and are known to Europeans as 'Dreaming-tracks' or 'Songlines'; to the Aboriginals as the 'Footprints of the Ancestors' or the 'Way of the Law’. Aboriginal Creation myths tell of the legendary totemic being who wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path - birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes - and so singing the world into existence."