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Unknown Artist

War Shield, possibly as early as ca. 1930

War Shield, possibly as early as ca. 1930

Wood with white lime and traces of charcoal and red ochre 59 in. x 14 1/2 in. x 1 in. (149.86 cm x 36.83 cm x 2.54 cm)

Crocker Art Museum, gift of Jane and John Fitz Gibbon

  • Before the mid-20th century, head hunting was a defining element of a complex belief system in the Papuan Gulf region, and skull racks were among the most sacred objects belonging to a Papuan clan. A young male clan member could be considered an adult only after he had killed and taken a head. Once cleaned, such skulls were attached to a rack with a fiber loop. Each rack represented an important founding ancestor vital to the clan's well-being and was thus maintained in a ceremonial house. When an elder renewed the rack with fresh pigment, it was believed to restore both its power and the ancestors' favor.

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