What are shields

What are shields ?Shields vary greatly in material and form. In Africa hide and basketry are much used, the former mainly in the east and south among the cattle-rearing peoples. In Indonesia, Australia and the Pacific region those of wood are more common, though basketry ones are also found. The Australian shields are small and light, suitable for parrying blows, and in this are similar to those of the Dinka and Mundu of the Sudan; elsewhere they are mostly for covering the most vital parts of the body. The shield is essentially the means of defense for those who use the club or spear and who fight mainly in the open. It is not convenient for a bow and arrow people since it interferes with the free use of both hands. In New Guinea, however, this difficulty has been overcome.

what are shields

Among the Tapiro pygmies of Netherlands New Guinea [now Irian Jaya], a small shield is hung around the neck in a net bag in such a way as to protect the chest. Among the Gulf tribes of Papua a large wooden shield, which has on its upper edge a deep slot for the passage of the left arm, is suspended over the shoulder.

Shield defensive weapon

The shield was the most widespread defensive weapon in the world. It protected a warrior from his enemy’s blows and could be used to deflect thrown spears and other missiles. Although a simple stick used to ward off a blow could be considered a shield, a true shield always had some form of grip. Almost all shields could only be used defensively though some were made in such a way that they could be used in attack if required, for example, some Indian shields had long animal horns attached that could be used for piercing (there were some of these shown on Screen 2 of the Bethnal Green Museum display, featured in this project.

Different types of shields

Different types of shields were developed to take account of the forms of offensive weapons used in battle and the degree of protection and mobility required by the warrior. Light hand-held shields were better suited to hand-to-hand fighting and mounted cavalry whilst tall, heavy shields set in the ground offered more effective defence in pitched battle. The shape and size of shields can vary from, at one extreme, East African and Australian parrying shields which were long and very thin with the grip often being the widest part, to some Naga shields from north east India, which were larger than the warriors that carried them.

These shapes reflect the different uses of the shields – the parrying shield was used to deflect blows and did not protect the warrior’s body by its presence, while the larger shields were often designed to act as a shelter for the whole body.