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War Shield

Artist/Maker: Asmat people (Irian Jaya, Indonesia)

Date: early 20th century
Medium: wood and paint
Overall: 79 3/4 x 25 x 3 1/4 in. (202.6 x 63.5 x 8.3 cm)
Classification: Weapons and Armor
Credit Line: Gift of The Rubin - Ladd Foundation
Object number: 2005.43.29
DescriptionEvery Asmat warrior possesses a war shield decorated with low relief carving and paint. No two are alike. The identity or meaning of the images is personal to the individual owner; they most likely have to do with his personal protective spirit. Each shield has a “head,” sometimes quite minimal or clearly indicated as is the case here. The red pigment is symbolic of blood and the white lime pigment is associated with sago (the principal food of the Asmat), brain matter, and sperm. The shields are used in headhunting, described as the “central pillar” of the Asmat way of life. Headhunting sustains fertility and spiritually renews social processes.
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