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The shield was purchased in Hawaii from a local art dealer and brought back to California 30 years ago. The shield's condition is near perfect for its age.
The Ramu River basin in Madang Province parallels the larger Sepik River basin. During the rainy season, the two form a single flood plain. The population density is much lower on this smaller river and the villages farther apart.
The shield is from the Rao language group. In The Seized Collections, A. Kasprus (The Tribes of the Middle Ramu and the Upper Keram Rivers, 1973) is quoted:
According to Kasprus, all Rao shields have basically the same design, symbolizing the mask of the Ndaro. Ndaro is the name of a powerful supernatural being who occupies a central place in Rao religion. Shields are usually pierced near the rim for attachment of a carrying strap. Rao shields are used as a defense weapon in combination with bow and arrows. The Rao do not manufacture spears. Although they barter spears from the neighboring Breri, they do not seem to use them as fighting weapons but hold them "as trophies or showpieces."