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Biwat people East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea
Shield Early 20th century, prior to 1920 Place made: Yuat River, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea Melanesia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, wood, ochres, bast, cassowary feathers, cane, fibre
Primary Insc: Papua New Guinea
Dimensions: 163 h x 32 w x 16 d cm
Accession No: NGA 70.159.A

Due to the cultural normality of inter-community warfare in the form of raids and ambushes, large shields made from one piece of wood such as this were a common sight in all the communities of the Sepik River region at the beginning of the twentieth century. Shields of this size provided not only excellent protection from projectiles such as spears and arrows, but their designs could also give the added dimension of magical protection. The series of faces with swirling patterns topped by a dominant face is common, with variations, to the Angoram area of the Sepik, Yuat and Keram rivers.
The reverse of this shield has two long vertical ridges for the attachment of the handle, which suggests it is from the Yuat River.
Chris Boylan noted that the vertical lines of faces on the shield are thought to represent a powerful spirit known as raram, [1] with the main face at the top said to be a flying fox. Boylan also recorded the term pakei for this type of shield.

[1] B Craig & H Beran (eds) Shields of Melanesia, Crawford House Press, Bathurst 2005. p 100.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2015

From: Crispin Howarth Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2015