Friday, 28 April 2017

Military History Photo Friday: African Shields

A variety of shields. The small round ones in the center are Ethiopian. One on the left has decorated brass fittings. The one next to it is made of hippopotamus hide. I believe the other shields are from the Sudan and Kenya, but I'm not sure. That skinny one on the lower left is a Dinka shield. The Dinka are from south Sudan and their shields only covered the hand, with the rod being used to parry blows. The shield on the right just above the elephant tusk is made of a turtle shell.


One of the more unusual museums I visited on my recent trip to Cairo was the Ethnological Museum. This is a very old-school museum with displays that don't look like they've been changed much in the past fifty years. It contains a good collection of costume, day-to-day objects, and weapons and armor. This includes an impressive array of East African shields that I'm showing here. In the upper floor is the Ethnographic Society with a lovely Victorian lecture hall and a sizeable library.

Located just off Tahrir Square, the heart of the famous 2011 revolution, it's one of the best guarded museums I have ever seen. Part of the grounds have been converted into a police headquarters. To get onto the property I had to go through a metal detector and show my passport. Then a cop with a machine gun escorted me to the museum. From there a museum official followed me from room to room until I left. No one is stealing these shields!

I'm far from an expert on African shields, although I am familiar with the Ethiopian forms. Unfortunately there was no signage in this room to help me. My identifications should thus be taken with a grain of salt. Any help identifying these fascinating pieces of African militaria would be highly appreciated!


The top shield is made of the plastron (belly part of the shell) of a giant turtle.
Two more shields. Like the vast majority of the shields in this collection, they are made of animal hide, which was strong enough to counter blows from clubs, arrows, and spears, but useless against bullets.
Two Ethiopian style shields. They may actually be from Sudan as this shield type was used there as well. They may, in fact, have been captured during the Anglo-Sudan War, when the British fought the Mahdi from 1896-99. Several weapons in the collection certainly come from the Mahdist army. I'll be showing those in a later post.

No comments:

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

You can also find him on his Twitter feed and Facebook page.