um 1980

About the object

The narrow, elongated decorative shield is adorned with carvings and paintings in white, red and black pigments. In the centre, two heads mirror one another on the horizontal axis, which are - depicted with earrings and a triangular-shaped headdress pointing upward - completely identical. Shields of this kind were worn at ceremonial dances in the northwest of New Britain. They were closely related to ancestor worship and belief in spirits.
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This narrow decorative shield made of softwood comes from the northwest of New Britain, the largest island of the Bismarck Archipelago. Its most striking motifs are the two almost completely identical faces, which are symmetrically placed on a horizontal axis. Both heads are wearing earrings and a triangular headdress. This is also presented as a mirror image, but its colouring is asymmetrical. Natural pigments were used to paint the masks: black was traditionally made from burnt nuts, red from tree bark and white from lime. There is a handle on the back. Shields of this kind were usually carried in pairs during ceremonial dances and were held horizontally in short swinging movements. They were probably closely related to ancestor worship and belief in spirits. The depicted faces are presumably spirit beings who were supposed to protect the bearer of the shield. There is hardly any information about the use of this shield. During the German colonial period at the end of the 19th century, the western province of New Brittany was of little economic importance and therefore received scant ethnographic attention. Heike Gerlach

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