Going Tribal: African Shields

In the past, African shields were designed to offer protection during combat. Small, lightweight shields offered greater mobility for close combat, and large, heavier ones provided more protection during ground battles. The patterns and designs on the shield indicated the person’s rank and status on the battlefield, as well as the ethnic group he belonged to.

Shields were also used as accessories in initiation, funeral, and dance ceremonies. A variety of materials were used like animal hides which provided strength and durability; wicker, a lightweight material used for weaving; wood which was sculpted into smooth shapes and carved with designs, and metal. Pity these glorious shields can’t protect us from the relentless sounds of the vuvuzelas.


  • corrugated cardboard
  • scissors and pencil
  • white paper towels and/or newspapers – torn into strips
  • white glue
  • masking tape
  • tempera paint
  • cardboard scraps (optional)
  • egg cartons (optional)
  • chopsticks (optional)
  • twine (optional)
  • animal print fabric (optional)
  • sand (optional)
  • sponge (optional)


1. Have a look at African Shields and the photos below to help you design your shield. The materials list gives you some idea of what you can use, like egg carton sections and chopsticks. Whatever items you decide to use should be attached to your cardboard base with masking tape.

2. The cardboard base is cut from corrugated cardboard boxes, easily found in grocery stores and liquor stores. Draw the shape on with pencil and cut out with scissors. When you cut your oval shape make sure the corrugated lines run lengthwise from top to bottom (like in the darker shield in the above photo) or the ends of your shield will curl up towards the centre when you are adding paper mâché (like in the coloured shield in the above photo); wise advice from my own mistakes. Live and learn! In order to make yourself a handle on the back (see photo below), scrunch up some newspaper and tape it onto the back of the shield. Don’t forget to paper mâché it for added strength.

3. When making paper mâché, I find it easier to alternate between layers of newpaper and white paper towels  (the folded kind typically found in office washrooms, available at stores like Staples). This helps you keep track of when you have completed a layer. For this project, three layers should be plenty so you can start with one layer of paper towel, followed by a second layer of newspaper, and a final layer of paper towel. It’s always better to make the last layer with white paper towels because your paint will be brighter without having to prime the surface with white paint. Also, make sure you tear your strips because the edges will blend better than cut edges.

4. Your paper mâché paste should be approximately ¾ white glue to ¼ water. Dip your strips in the paste and make sure to remove any excess before adding to your cardboard base. Once you have completed your three layers, leave until completely dry before painting.

5. Mix the tempera colours you have chosen and paint your shield. Adding some sand to the paint can give it an interesting texture, something my son discovered during one of his ‘experimental’ moments where he mixed unexpected things together. Experimenting is great and while not everything works out, in this case the results were brilliant; the sand gave the shield an aged look like an old artifact. You can also use sponges to blend several colours together, again, giving the shield an older look.

6. Once the paint has dried, you can further embellish your shield by gluing on bits of fabric or tying twine to the chopsticks if you included them. Your shield in now ready for displaying or for going into battle with your friends.



Filed under African shields, paper mâché

8 responses to “Going Tribal: African Shields

  1. Very fun! Those would make nice decorations!

  2. LOVE the shields!!! Such a fun project!

    Thanks so much for sharing this at The DIY Dreamer.. From Dream To Reality!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing with Wednesdays Adorned From Above Link Party. You have done beautiful work.

  4. Oh, I love them!! We may have to give these a try! I pinned it to our Multicultural Resource Board. Thank you so much for sharing at Sharing Saturday!!

  5. Pingback: Zulu Tribe Shield Projects | Sociology - Popular Question & Answer

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