Shield (Grere'o [?]), early to mid–19th century
Solomon Islands, shield: probably New Georgia or Guadalcanal Island, inlay: possibly Santa Isabel Island
Fiber, parinarium nut paste, chambered nautilus shell, pigment; H. 33 3/4 in. (84.5 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1972 (1978.412.730)
The inlaid shields of the Solomon Islands are spectacular and enigmatic objects. Only around twenty-five survive, all apparently created before 1850. Most consist, as here, of ordinary basketry fighting shields, overmodeled with a hard blackish resin, and then painted and inset with mother-of-pearl inlays. Basketry shields were used widely in the central Solomons, but appear to have been made by specialists living in the interiors of the islands of Guadalcanal and New Georgia. However, the inlay work was likely performed by artists from Santa Isabel, either on that island or as war captives on New Georgia.
The imagery of the surviving inlaid shields is remarkably similar. The central image portrays a human figure, perhaps a warrior or protective spirit, above a transverse band often adorned, as here, with smaller human faces, possibly alluding to the former practice of headhunting. The inlaid surfaces are extremely fragile, making it unlikely the shields were used in combat. Instead, they were probably ceremonial objects carried as marks of social and martial distinction.