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Shields in Africa

Since the time of the pharaohs, shields served in all cultures as a protection in armed conflicts and in hunting.

Shields were also used in war dances and in ritual acts. Young men practiced the art of war with sticks and small parry shields

Besides fights between different tribes in East Africa, resistance struggles and clashes with the German colonial government took place in the former protectorate German East Africa (Deutsch-Ostafrika).

In the Maji Maji rebellion between 1905 and 1907, charismatic healer Kinjikitile brought together hostile tribes under the maji cult (water in the Swahili language).

According to this belief a magic water, which the warriors used to wash themselves and moisten their weapons, was to even avert bullets from the colonial officer’s rifles. After the end of this bloody defense, all weapons and shields hat to be handed over.

Battle shields should be light enough to be carried at a run over long distances. They protected against arrows, spearheads, club blows and even musket bullets.

Some of the displayed shields in our museum from different African ethnic groups are presented here.

The big and rather bulky zebra hide shield of the Bena and Ngindo from South Tanzania was not used for hunting; probably it served representative or ceremonial purposes. On its backside, a small pouch is fastened.

The belligerent Ngoni who attacked other tribes, assimilated them and took possession of their herds spread this oval shield type interwoven with leather strips in the 19th century.

The rim of the crocodile leather shield used by the Shilluk in South Sudan is turned down to prevent the rim from rolling up, causing the opponent’s weapon to slip and hit the bearer of the shield.

The slim rectangular wickerwork shield with horizontal leather strips was used by the Pokot in Kenia.

This type of shield made of parallel sticks fastened together with leather strips is only known in this African area.
Presumably, these shields were used for mock fencing matches during boys’ circumcision ceremonies.