Mar 30, 2021
Mar 30, 2021

War Shield

War Shield

c. 1940

Painted wood

Overall: 176.5 x 60.3 x 7 cm (69 1/2 x 23 3/4 x 2 3/4 in.)

Gift of The May Company, Cleveland 1963.554



The carving of war shields was celebrated by the Asmat with a special feast, which was immediately followed by a headhunting raid. Each shield was named after an ancestor, who inspired strength and courage in the new owner. Shields were carved from the buttress roots of mangrove trees and decorated with raised symbolic designs. Their surfaces were painted white (lime), red (ochre), and black (charcoal). Motifs frequently carved on shields include squatting ancestors and fruit-eating animals such as flying foxes and hornbills. Fruits are considered analogous to human heads, and thus fruit-eaters symbolize headhunting ancestors. Tassels made from large sago palm leaves once hung from the shield's edges.

See also
Oceanic Art
Type of artwork: 
Painted wood

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