Mendi shield

Archives | Papua New Guinea

Mendi shield

Papua New Guinea

Warrumbi war shield
Mendi Valley, Southern Highlands

Carved wood
20th century
Height: 150 cm
Length: 49 cm

Ex collection Chris Boylan, Sydney

Sold
Warfare has been at the center of Highlands life since immemorial times. The shield has always been considered an extension of the warrior himself.
When warfare was expected, warriors repainted their shields to ensure that the colors shone brilliantly against the sun to dazzle and threaten the opposing side. In the western Pacific, shields bore the name of warriors, and possessed a life force, or spirit, that connected them to their ancestors.
As stated by Chris Boylan who previously owned this sculpture, shields of the Mendi Valley are generally painted in simple bold designs that incorporate circles and semi-circles in meaningful but abstract designs. This is one of the rarer examples that depicts an anthropomorphic figure. When figures are painted on shields they usually represent ancestors, not spirits, who lend protective power to the warrior using the shield.
Red is the colour of victory (and blood), and most often the major colour on Mendi valleys shields: it hopes to pre-ordain victory over the enemy. The background is white clay, painted to further emphasize the red figure.
It is carving from a timber called war – hence the name for a shield, warrumbi: meaning literally “wall of the war tree”.
This shield is old and has few indigenous restaurations.
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