Rainforest Shield (petite)
Arthur Palmer Family Collection, Queensland.
Outstanding old c1880s traditional example with superb original design.
Rainforest shield designs present a wistful, ethereal and subtle patternation of colour and forms which makes them unique amongst Aboriginal art. The haunting beauty and the scale of this particular shield evokes a power which belies the shy lives lead by its diminutive creators, the Negritoid (Small People) Kung’ga: ndyi and Yidindyi language groups of the North Queensland Rainforest around Cardwell Coast and the Atherton Table Land.
Ian Fairweather, the famous Queensland painter who lived & worked on Bribie Island, once in 1971 remarked to Palmer then a young Art student ethnographer that he considered them to be the most sublime & sophisticated of all abstracts (personal communication).
Based on McConnel and his own field work, Palmer interprets the design iconography depicted on this shield as leach, blood (vein) & wait awhile Lawyer vine Calamus muelleri.
Ursula McConnel, in her 1934 ground breaking article, Inspiration & Design in Aboriginal Art, states that "the Culture Hero BULERU is ritually associated with all Totemic Clan motifs on Rainforest shields & therefore the power of the BULERU dwells in the design: Thus it seems likely that the inspiration for the Artists’ choice of designs on the shields… was originally drawn not merely from an intimacy with the common objects of every-day life but from a belief in the BULERU who were responsible for the creation of these objects in the beginning and who impregnated them with their spirit, thus making them amenable to human needs."
Carol Cooper in Aboriginal Australia states; "Shields played an important part in the initiation of young men as each was given a bare shield to paint after having received his final 'marks' (cicatrices – ceremonial scarification)". The designs on the shields were considered to possess protective qualities. Rainforest shields were always associated in battles with the heavy hard wood unpainted fighting swords.
Lumholtz in 1889 recorded, during his North Queensland field work amongst the Rainforest people, that the designs applied to the face of these Rainforest shields were all different, suggesting that this constituted an individual’s “Coat of Arms”. In this case almost certainly totemic (leach, lawyer vine) and ceremonial (blood).Native Fig buttress root wood (ficus albipila) painted with earth ochres & charcoal.
The Uni of Sydney Macleay Museum catalogue “Collected” observes that these Rainforest shields were traded with other Aboriginal groups and by the late 1880s were very rarely made or used.
Aboriginal Tools of the Rainforest, co-written by the Aboriginal people of Jumbun and Helen Pedley.
Cooper, Carol 1981 Aboriginal Australia. National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Australian Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, Australian Gallery Directors Council in association with the National Gallery of Victoria.
Cosgrove, R. J. Field and A. Ferrier 2007. The archaeology of the Australia’s tropical rainforest. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 251 (1): 150-173.
Davies,SM.2002. Collected. 150 years of Aboriginal Art and Artifacts. The Macleay Museum Sydney NSW.
Lumholtz, C Among Cannibals: an Account of Four Years' Travels in Australia, and of Camp Life with the Aborigines of Queensland, John Murray, London, 1889, pp 362-63.
McCarthy, Fred. 1974.Aboriginal Decorative Art. The Australian Museum. Sydney NSW.
Palmer, Arthur Beau. 1974- 77.Collection & FNQ Cape York field notes. Queensland Museum.
Pedley,H. 1993. Aboriginal Tools of the Rainforest - The Aboriginal people of Jumbun . 1993 Companion to Aboriginal Life in the Rainforest; material culture of the Jirrabul and Girramay people. Jumbun Ltd and H. Pedley.