Rainforest Battle Shield - Australia

The following are selected comments on the Faith-Dorian and Martin Wright Rainforest shield by D’Lan Davidson, Australian indigenous art specialist

The designs associated with Rainforest shields, baskets, and other related objects are some of the most unique amongst Indigenous Australian cultural practice. The use of bold colors amongst highly dramatized designs can only be aligned with the peoples of the northern Queensland rainforests. 
 
The present shield is exceptional, in age, form, and in particular the assured original design, which is of the quality of several shields held in the Macleay Museum, Sydney; the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford; and the many examples held in the Queensland Museum in Brisbane. This particular example evokes a sense of power which belies the shrouded lives of its makers who lived around the Cardwell Coast and the Atherton Tableland in North Queensland.
 
The makers painted the designs of an individual warrior within a clan, generally done by two initiated men starting at opposite ends of the shield. It is likely that this example had two hands involved in its creation. The owner’s kinship would also be represented through the use of color – typically red-brown, black, yellow, and white (as evident with this shield).
 
Carl Lumholtz, scientist and traveler, recorded during his North Queensland field work in 1899 that amongst the Rainforest peoples shields of this type were used to deflect large one-handed sword clubs, boomerangs, and spears during clan gatherings, where disputes between clans and individuals were settled. Shields and sword clubs were used in conjunction, and the scarring evident on the right-hand side of the offered shield is evidence of actual use in this form of intense tribal warfare. Amongst shield collectors and connoisseurs, this ‘battle-scarring’ is not only desired, it elevates the status of the shield as a true testament and honor to its original maker.

Mid-19th century
Fig tree wood, natural pigments
34 5/8” h
Provenance:
- John J. Klejman, New York
- Faith-Dorian and Martin Wright Collection, New York, acquired from the above on March 30, 1973
#588
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