Movie: Timp shield from Mendi, PNG

Trevor Shearston made a significant donation of artefacts from the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea in 2009. Here Trevor tells us about a fighting shield featuring Timp which he collected from the Mendi area and how it was made and used.

©  Australian Museum and Trevor Shearston
Finton Mahony
Trevor Shearston


This is a wooden fighting shield from the Mendi area of the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea, collected in 1970.

It is stone carved. The small depressions in the back of the shield indicate that this was carved with a stone tool. It takes out little scallops of timber - a stone tool - and this one is covered with all these little scallops. That’s a sign that it’s been made with a stone tool.

It’s also been smoked in the roof of the house as a preservation to harden the timber and also to preserve it from borer.

The figure on the front has been incised, probably either with a stone tool or with a possum tooth or a possum claw, which was a very common carving implement when the timber was green of course.

The painted areas are ochre.

The figure that’s been carved into the shield I was told represents Timp who was an important Mendi spirit. Ceremonies were bought from neighbouring areas and Timp was one of the spirits who came into the Mendi area. Timp was a very strong and pervasive ceremony and ritual that was being used in the Mendi Valley when I arrived in 1968.

In the Timp ceremony pigs were killed. In this ceremony stones were coated and the main spirit was Timp. This little figure - generally Timp was identified by these big ears. That’s why I’m persuaded that what I was told is correct.

This is for fighting with bows and arrows. It’s a body shield. That is banana fibre as a strap. It goes over the shoulder and the banana fibre holds the shield in place. The man also sometimes has to steady it but it hangs from the shoulder and the man has the left hand free for the bow and the right hand is firing the bow. The bowstring is here and the man is standing side on and the shield is protecting his upper body.

While he’s using this shield his legs and his feet are a blur. He is doing an amazing dance where his feet and his legs are never in the same place for more than a second. He’s jumping up and down, he’s doing this, he’s doing this and he’s doing this. He’s particularly jumping up and down.

Carving Timp onto the shield might have had a number of purposes or two major purposes - (1) would have been to protect the wearer because Timp is protecting the wearer or (2) it might be to intimidate whoever you are facing - the enemy - by showing the enemy you have Timp on your side and Timp is your protector.

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Tags Shearston, finton, Timp, Mendi, PNG, shield, wood, artefact, intangible, warefare, warfare, donation, ochre,