African shields play an important role in tribal weaponry.

African shields play an important part in tribal weaponry which takes a variety of designs and forms to represent a group’s religious, political or other ritual contexts. As most other things that are crafted by the different tribes, shields not only serve its defensive purpose but also carry with it symbolic meaning of spirituality and prestige.

They are made from the most commonly available materials that are easily accessible to the different ethnic craftsmen. Some of these materials that are crafted into this type of weaponry include:

Hide and Leather

Since prehistoric times, hides of domesticated and wild animals have been an important source of medium in creating various African crafts. With the extreme conditions that the animals are exposed to, tribes are assured of quality and durability of their work.

The Masai people found mainly in Tanzania and Kenya are nomadic herdsmen that greatly makes use of their animal herds. The shields made by the Masai comprise of tightly stretched cowhides around a flexible wooden frame, which are richly decorated with polychrome designs.

The tribes along equatorial Africa, specifically in Congo, use the skin of one of the most feared and loathed creatures in the African waterways—the crocodile. African shields that have been discovered in this region are made from semi-circular crocodile skins that have been simply cut and dried. The wooden handles are finely detailed and richly adorned with geometric motifs.


In regions blessed with lush tropical bounty, wood is the primary material in creating them.

The Songye African shields are carved out from single, huge chunks of wood. Their sculptural design of intense vitality and dynamism are reflected in the intricate woodwork that they have produced. The carved fierce faces on them are associated to the art form of the Zaire people that project assertive strength and unparalleled courage.


With the tribesmen’s combs, knives, teeth and toes, creating wicker shields have been among their leisurely activities. The Dinkas used these types of weaponry to protect the fists while settling disagreements within the tribe through fights. The materials used are derived from the plants that are mainly found in the swampy lowlands near the Nile.


The Mofu-speaking tribes within northern Cameroon, near Nigeria, are famous crafters of metal shields. These armories are typically bell-shaped which are studded with tiny circular dents that form exquisite geometric patterns. The handles are attached in the middle and are meticulously wrapped in cloth to provide comfort for the warriors’ hands.

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