Art of Defence (Shields)

The Maasai and their Shields: Art Culture and Weapons.

Being of Kenyan heritage, the history of the Maasai living off the grasslands of Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania around Mount Kilimanjaro is very much part of my story, whilst having the privilege visiting and experiencing the history of these pastoralist semi-nomadic tribal people, their culture, traditions and lifestyle and also their close contact with nature became one of my most abiding memories. I do recall driving through Ngorongoro National park in Tanzania and seeing a young maasai boy armed only with a spear guarding cattle oblivious to a cub of lions nearby a testimony to their bravery and the only protection, “spear and shield” a masterpiece of art in weaponry. Maasai spears and shields being everyday necessary objects were historically used as aides to guarding cattle and hunting, although lesser used now, the shields had their place in warfare and rites of passage and to become a warrior a maasai boy was singularly expected to kill a male lion armed only with a spear and a shield. The shields carefully constructed with a high degree of craftsmanship and intricately designed, blurring the lines between utilitarian and fine art.

The shield consist of a buffalo hide sewn to a wood frame; and a wooden handle wrapped in leather attached to the centre of the back of the convex frame. The surface of the shield is decorated with an array of natural colours and patterns (sirata). For instance, black was achieved from the burnt skins of gourds, red; by mixing earth and blood; and white from kaolin local clays. The colours conveyed messages about the status of the warrior owner. Young warriors traditionally could only use black, white, or gray on their shields. Red was reserved for the experienced warriors. The various patterns are associated with different groups in maasai people, that is they tell of a warrior’s region or clan. The shield functioned as a symbol of identification and possible prestige.

At Kezhia Fields, we are delighted to offer you an antique (19th century maasai warrior shield of stunning quality. The shield bearing the colours of red and black an indication that it was used by a proven herder or warrior. A similar shield is displayed at the African Heritage house Nairobi Kenya.

This is a true masterpiece of the maasai warrior art that would suit enthusiastic collectors of tribal weaponry; or indeed a very distinctive addition for interior decoration. Please contact us at

Kezhia Orege

Kezhia Fields Art of Tribal

The shield functioned as a symbol

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