These wooden shields from the Indonesian South West Papua region 'Asmat'. Asmat people, translated 'tree people' live in a very swampy environment with lots of mangrove trees. As the Asmat area floods easily up until 2 km inland, they build their houses on poles, sometimes even up in the trees. The Asmat people used to be known for their cannibalism and headhunting and are still reknowned for their elaborate woodcarving. Up until the 1980s they were still hunting for heads of neighboring tribes.
These shields were an important part of warfare and headhunting back in the days for the Asmat people. The shield is carved with natural symbols of their landscape such as the trees, plants and animals. These shields were used during a headhunting ritual prior to a headhunting expedition. The carrier of the shield would get the courage, strength and invulnerability of its ancestor before going into warfare or an headhunting raid at that time. Nowadays, these shields are still used in rituals and ceremonies. Sometimes they are also placed as guards next to the door of a ceremonial house when the men are preparing the rituals. It is to keep bad spirits as well as women and children out until the ceremony begins.