Kominimung War Shield - Middle Ramu River, Papua New Guinea

A host of ghostly images decorates the upper half of this old Kominimung shield, incised and highlighted with strong contrasts of white. Following traditional design, a central, downward-pointing triangular panel is flanked by motifs arranged symmetrically. Numerous faces adorn the shield amid a host of other, more abstract symbols. The largest face, which occupies the central panel, represents an important ancestor, while the side panels contain specific clan emblems. These traditionally represent totemic animals, or more rarely plants or cosmic symbols, related in a mystical way to the clan of the shield bearer. The haunting effect of the composition, with its staring eyes and vibrating intimations of the spirit world, is heightened by its eroded surface.

Such shields were used in warfare, but when not in use they were displayed on the walls of men’s houses. Rather than a carved handle, these shields were held by a carrying strap attached to the plaited matting that tightly girdles the lower portion of this shield. Though the fiber handle is now missing, the intact matting shows marvelous craftsmanship and beauty in its geometric, stepped cascade design.

Late 19th or Early 20th Century
Wood, rattan, natural pigments
49 1/4" H

Everett Rassiga, New York, inv. no. 7657

Faith-Dorian and Martin Wright Collection, New York, presumably acquired from the above

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