RITUAL DANCE SHIELD
Place of Origin: Madura, Indonesia
Date: Circa 1900
Overall Diameter: 630mm (25 inches)
A fine example of a painted wooden shield from the island of Madura, Indonesia. With its well-preserved, sturdy surface and solid hand-grip, this ceremonial shield still retains various traces of its original red pigment and gold leaf throughout, subtly highlighting the shield’s noble provenance – for there is little doubt that it originates from the court of the Bangkalan principality.
The centre roundel of the shield, together with the four cartouches in its outer rim, feature intricate inscriptions in Jawi. Arabic calligraphy was often prominently displayed on weapons and armoury in Indonesia, both to symbolically reaffirm the bearer’s Muslim identity, and to serve a protective purpose in times of conflict. The talismanic quality of this shield ought to be remarked: the carving at the centre, encircled by floral designs and proclaiming ‘God is great’ (‘Allah Akbar’), is encircled within the penultimate band by the four cartouches which refer to Prince Cakraningrat, the Regent of Bangkalan, Madura (‘Pangeran Cakraningrat’, ‘Adipati Bangkalan Madura’).
Some details of the shield, however, hint at earlier religious allegiance and symbolism, signifying the deeper legitimacy of the island’s ruler. Indeed, at various periods in the Madurese history, the royal court embraced in turn either Buddhism or Hinduism, or both, and there exists a legend proclaiming that the island of Madura is in fact the very realm of the Hindu deity Baladewa. As noted by curator Robyn Maxwell in her own description of the shield: ‘The formal title taken by successive rulers of Bangkalan – ‘Cakraningrat’ – is derived from the cakra, the discus weapon of the great Hindu god Vishnu, and the Wheel of Law, symbolising the Universal Monarch. The multi-spoked cakra – four large flames – or trident-tipped prongs and four smaller ones within one or more broad circular bands - served as a symbol of Bangkalan royalty, a prominent feature on the court's coat of arms and ceremonial banners, appearing on royal letters, manuscripts, seals, and coins. It was also emblazoned on weaponry, including cannons, and is the central design feature of this ceremonial shield.’
While it is not known for certain which sovereign the inscription alludes to, it can be inferred from the title of ‘Pangeran Cakraningrat’ that it may have been Pangeran Hasyim, who ruled from 1882-1905 as the first Madurese Regent under the Dutch colonial administration – an attribution further supported by the shield’s age.
Bill Evans, War, Art and Ritual – Shields from the Pacific, 2019
 Jawi is the script for the Malay language transliterated in Arabic, derived from the name of the island of Java (Jawa in Indonesian / Malay). Because Madura is located just off the north-eastern coast of Java, the Madurese people are culturally and linguistically very closely related to the Javanese.
 See Robyn Maxwell, Life, Death and Magic: 2000 Years of Southeast Asian Ancestral Art, National Gallery of Australia, 2010