Massim War Shield

Women and Power

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

This Massim war shield was made in Papua New Guinea, before 1900. The shield is made of thick wood. The front is painted with a red paint and a black paint derived from soot. The complex pattern on the bottom half depicts a woman's vagina coloured red, along with numerous small rectangles and bird-like figures on the rest of the body.

The paint work is in very good condition and may have been refreshed at a later date. The female genitalia depicted reflects the high status of the user, and is believed to strengthen the abilities of the warrior who carried the shield.

Discussion Ideas:

  • The significance of women in the Papua New Guinea society and their beliefs
  • The representation of woman’s genitalia found in objects and people’s views on it especially in modern times.

Young person's response to this object:

It seems strange that a vagina is found on a weapon of war, and reminds me how different the culture must have been. Tom Burke

This shield is from a very remote Kiriwina Island in the Soloman Sea, shown in the map below. Zoom out to see where this island is, and how remote it is.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Museums Sheffield: Weston Park | 
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