Arawe Shields

Beatrice Blackwood's edited fieldnotes of 1938

[Note that Beatrice Blackwood's New Britain collection is the subject of a current research project in the Pitt Rivers Museum. Details of the findings of this project (including notes on the material culture of the area), which has researched the three principle collections of Arawe material culture, will be published in 1999 or 2000. Enquiries should be addressed to the Pitt Rivers Museum, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PP].

Material Culture of the Arawe, Moewehafen District, New Britain.


1. Fighting

The conch shell (tu) was sounded to call people to a fight. Before going out on a raid they used to chew the betel mixture 'to make them angry', so that they would fight well.

Fighting weapons were the spear (nu) and shield (ilo). Bows and arrows have never been used as fighting weapons in this area, though they are known, as boys use small crudely made bows, with long slips of palm wood, for fishing. The natives seem rather proud of not using the bow and arrows. One showed me a shield with several holes in it, saying: 'Look at the holes the spears make. We are not the same as those people who play with bows and arrows'. Spears and shields are still manufactured, the latter chiefly by the natives of inland villages, who sell them to the coastal people. Except for occasional duels arising out of quarrels between individuals, fighting has now ceased throughout this area, but the spears and shields are used to provide the rhythm for dances, by beating the spear against the shield.

Spears are made of any hard wood; they are about 8 - 10 ft. in length, one end roughly sharpened, the other left as cut. They are decorated with a fringe of fibre either near one end or near the middle, below which is a narrow band of weaving, and for about 12 inches below that there is a carved pattern, usually of the chevron type.

Shields are rectangular. Typical specimens measured 4'6" x 1'2" and 4'2" x 11". They are composed of three planks from the tree called okop, a species of palm, slightly convex on the outer side, almost flat on the inner side. The middle one is broader than the other two and the design on it is so arranged as to make it appear like two, so that the shield looks as though it were made of four planks, but I am informed that this is never done, as it would make the shield too heavy. The planks are fastened together by four bands of liana, passing right round the shield into a groove cut in the middle plank, under a portion of the wood which is left bridging the groove. The binding is kept in place by bands of liana passing through the wood on either side of this bridge. There may be another pair of bands at the edges. A portion about 12" x 2" on the inner side is hollowed with a centre bar to form a handle. Covering the outside of the shield is a design carved in low relief and painted in black (kawene, the same paint as used for bark-cloth), red (wornga, ochre) and white (algo, a substance found in the beds of rivers in the bush). The inside is painted but not carved.

The designs on the shields purchased by me were explained as follows:-

No. 1 Outside. A pair of sets of concentric circles (page) on top and bottom and two pairs in the middle. These circles are said to represent coils of liana such as is used for fastening. Between the outer and inner series of circles is a zigzag pattern in rows (warki) representing the ripples on water when a stone is thrown in. Inside design based on the fruit of a tree called marigo.

No. 2 Outside, a pair of concentric circles top and bottom, between them six pairs of circles in three sets, separated by black bands. Inside a complicated design part of which is based on a tree partly felled (pan) and part on a bush creeper (legigahaun).

The concentric circles appear on the outside of every shield I have seen; the design on the inside vary individually.

Here is how Beatrice described these two shields when she wrote them into the accession registers on her return to the Pitt Rivers Museum:

'2 rectangular wooden shields, ilo, composed of three planks, convex on the outer side and almost flat on the inner side, fastened together by four bands of liana. A portion on the inner side of the broader middle plank is hollowed, with a centre bar to form a vertical handle. The outside of both shields is covered with a design carved in low relief, and painted in black (kawene, a paint prepared from the burnt resin of the canarium almond), red (wornga, ochre) and white (algo, a substance found in the beds of rivers in the bush); the inside is painted but not carved. The outside ornament is formed by a spiral scroll (page) and zigzag (warko) pattern; the design on the inside of the larger shield is based on a tree partly felled (pan) and a bush creeper (legigahaun), the one on the inside of the smaller shield is based on the fruit of a tree called marigo. MOEWEHAFEN.'

[Accession Book Entry (for 1938.36.1050 - .1051)]

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