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Old 4th October 2006, 12:06 AM   #1
Nick Wardigo
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Default Vietnamese Shield

I purchased this a few months ago, and I wanted to get the opinions of the forum.

Dimensions are 50 inches tall by 16 inches wide. It is composed entirely of lacquered wood with iron or steel nails. The image on the front is of a dragon descending from the clouds, breathing water into the ocean as a flying fish swims up the spray of water. I have seen this motif twice before, and both were on Vietnamese items (one was on a kiem I own that I lectured on in Baltimore a few years ago).

The nails are machined. This, coupled with the overall good condition of the shield, dates this piece as no older than mid-nineteenth century. I do believe that this is a processional piece due to the high quality of lacquerwork and its heavy weight (you really don't want to fight with this for any length of time in a rainforest).

I have come across one other documented example of a similar shield in the Barbier-Mueller Museum book on shields (page 132-133). The shield in that book is of almost identical dimensions to my shield, but it is composed of rattan. I suspect that this IS a combat shield, and my shield is a processional version of it.

I have come across a few other examples in Vietnamese artwork, but the Barbier-Mueller example is the only other physical example. Has anyone seen anything like this?

Thanks,
Nick
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Old 4th October 2006, 02:50 PM   #2
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CONGRADULATIONS ON THE SHIELD I DON'T OWN ANY ITEMS FROM VIETNAM BUT WILL TRY AND INCLUDE A FEW PICTURES FROM MY COMPUTER FILES OF VIETNAMESE SHIELDS. THE WICKER SHIELD IS SAID TO BE A MOI SHIELD ALSO IT IS 32 INCHES IN DIAMETER AND 8 IN. DEEP SAID TO BE FROM QUANG NAGAI REGION IN CENTRAL VIETNAM. THE BLACK ONE IS CALLED A SEDANG SHIELD THAT IS 19.5 IN. DIAMETER.
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Old 4th October 2006, 07:15 PM   #3
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Hello Vandoo,

The black-lacquered one is actually Laotian, according to the Barbier-Mueller book (the full title is, SHIELDS: AFRICA, SOUTHEAST ASIA AND OCEANIA FROM THE COLLECTIONS OF THE BARBIER-MUELLER MUSEUM). To quote from page 136: "Such shields are often erroneously attributed to the 'Moi' of Vietnam."

The rattan shield is, I think, almost certainly Chinese. At least, I've seen similar shields attributed to China, and none of my research has uncovered a similar shield in Vietnam (the Barbier-Mueller book suggests that there were circular rattan shields in Vietnam, but there are no photos and no reference is made of the tiger-face decoration).

I'm attaching the photos of the Vietnamese shield from pages 132 and 133 of this book. I don't mean to reference this book so heavily, but this seems to be the best book in my possession on the subject of African and Asian shields.
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Old 4th October 2006, 07:16 PM   #4
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Forgot the photos.
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Old 4th October 2006, 07:28 PM   #5
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This is the best image I have of a shield from Vietnamese artwork. It's from the book, TRANH CO VIET NAM (ANCIENT AND TRADITIONAL PAINTINGS OF VIETNAM), pages 68-69. I expanded the appropriate detail as best I can, but the image quality isn't the greatest. The caption reads, "Triumphal return of the military mandarin -- At the end of the 18th century (Doc Loi - Quynh - Nghe An)" The parenthetical information is, I believe, the people, city, and province of the artist.
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Old 5th October 2006, 03:15 AM   #6
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IT IS DIFFICULT TO FIND MUCH INFORMATION IN SO MANY FEILDS OF COLLECTING SOME MORE SO THAN OTHERS. I THINK I MAY HAVE DONE AN OLD POST ON A SHIELD SIMULAR TO YOURS BUT IT WAS JUST TO POINT OUT A CURRENT EBAY AUCTION. THAT IS NO LONGER ALLOWED SO IT MUST BE IN ANCIENT RECORDS AND AT ANY RATE THE EBAY PICTURES WOULD BE LONG GONE. I DID A BRIEF SEARCH AND ALL I CAME UP WITH WAS A POST BY THERION SHIELD FROM LAOS 4/16/02. I WILL INCLUDE THE PICTURES THAT WERE THERE HERE FOR YOUR OPINION.
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Old 5th October 2006, 08:52 PM   #7
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Love the shield, Nick. I came across a reference to this type of shield in an old European travel account. It's described exactly, in form (doesn't say anything about the decoration). I need to go check where exactly I found it.
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Old 6th October 2006, 03:00 PM   #8
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"Amongst other defensive Armes, they use little Bucklers or Targets, of an Ovall forme, of such a length, that they will commonly cover the whole Man, being so light also, that they are nothing cumbersome." Cristoforo Borri, Cochin-China: Containing many admiralbe Rarities and Singularities of that Country. Exctracted out of an Italian Relation, lately presented to the Pope, by Christophoro Borri, that lived certaine yeeres there., Chapter VIII (1633).

Love the title. This is a translation published by Robert Ashley in 1633. I'm not sure when the original was presented to the Pope.
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Old 6th October 2006, 04:33 PM   #9
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Vandoo--

Thanks for the image. There is a shield with some similarities on page 135 of the Barbier-Mueller book. The author attributes it to the Kaseng people of Laos.

Something to keep in mind with this and the black-lacquered shield you posted is that they were used by the hill peoples of Laos (and, possibly, Vietnam). I think my shield was likely used by the Dai Viet, or the majority people of Vietnam. Its presence in Vietnamese artwork and the clearly Chinese-influenced lacquerwork corroborate this. I imagine this shield would have been used in a procession along with the ornately-decorated kiem and guom (straight-sword and saber). These other shields, while being geographically close in origin, were used by other ethnic groups with very different purposes. I don't say this to discourage your posting of other images of similar shields...on the contrary, I'm very interested in them. I only suggest that we may be doing the Western equivalent of comparing a tomahawk to an American Revolutionary War saber.
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Old 6th October 2006, 04:51 PM   #10
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Mark--

Thank you for your kind words. I very much enjoy the shield as well, and it will take a place of honor in my collection (possibly as a background to my rack of kiem).

Thank you for the Borri quote. I am aware of the book but have not read it myself (although, I believe Cornell University is reprinting it in the near future, along with Samuel Baron's accounts of Vietnam from the late 17th century). It certainly seems like Borri is describing my form of shield, but probably the rattan version. My shield is far too heavy to be described as, "being so light...that they are nothing cumbersome."

I'm attaching an image from the Baron book (again, haven't read it, but I found some images reprinted elsewhere) which depicts military drills. Again, I blew up the relevant detail of shield fighting. Judging from the fighting posture of the opponent on the left, I suspect these were also rattan shields (I can't imagine hauling my heavy wooden shield over my head like this). For reference's sake, this image is from: A DESCRIPTION OF THE KINGDOM OF TONQUEEN, Samuel Baron, 1685.
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Old 6th October 2006, 05:46 PM   #11
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There is a facsimile copy available free on-line: http://dlxs.library.cornell.edu/s/sea/index.php
It is not very long, so with some patience you can download and assemble the pages (or I can try and e-mail you a copy of mine).

Cornell's SEA project is a great source for old books. They come up for viewing page-by-page, but its no problem to scan the pages and download what you want, if its too long to get every page.
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Old 14th March 2016, 07:24 PM   #12
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Sorry to reopen an ancient thread, but I have new information on this subject, and I think it makes more sense to keep it all in one place.

So, aften ten years of owning this shield and scratching my head about it, I tripped across a second one a few weeks ago and promptly snatched it up. The craftsmanship is rougher than I expected, and the condition could be better, although I suppose I should be happy to find one in any condition at all.

I photographed it next to my first one, so you can compare the two. As you can see, the dimensions are roughly the same, as is the black lacquer/paint in the front and red lacquer/paint on the back. The general construction is similar, right down to the horizontal handle. Curiously, the first shield uses machined nails to hold it together, whereas the second is fastened with iron or steel chunks that are peened over the back of the handle (less elegant, but very effective).

The decoration is a puzzle. Obviously, this is meant to be the eight trigrams of Taoism, but the trigrams are all wrong (without going into details, each of the trigrams should be a different sequence of dashes and lines). Also, the yin-yang in the center is sloppy. I highly doubt that this was painted by a Taoist at all.

Having said that, I'm almost certain this is not a tourist piece. The handle shows a lot of wear, exactly where you'd expect to find it if it were carried a lot. An interesting similarity: both shield handles have a square cut-out to the right of the oblong cut-out that's meant for the hand. One of my early thoughts was that this might be to accommodate a strap to help distribute the weight of the shield, but upon inspection of old photos of a ceremony at Hue (more on that in a bit), that is certainly not the case.

Tripping across this shield re-ignited my research, and I finally came up with an answer to what the crap these things are. They are part of a ceremonial dance, used in a ritual called the "Nam Giao sacrifice." I'm still a little spotty on all the details, mostly due to bad translations through Google, but from what I gather, every three years in Hue, there was a sacrificial ritual to Heaven, the Earth, and the local "genies" (I gather they mean some sort of nature spirits). The Vietnamese would sacrifice animals that they had fattened over the previous year, and part of the ritual involved a shield dance called "Mua Bat Dat," which has something to do with the specific formation of 64 dancers/soldiers in 8 columns of 8. The ceremony disappeared along with the Nguyen Dynasty (I believe in 1948), but the good citizens of Hue brought it back about fifteen years ago as a cultural preservation thing.

As you can see in the photos, the first shield is clearly from this ceremony. My current theory about the second, cruder one, is that it is a rustic version of the official Hue shields, made by inferior craftsmen in both, woodworking and decoration. The wear on the handle makes me think it was used quite a bit, if not in a similar dancing function, then in some other sort of ceremony. The incorrect trigrams and yin-yang are still a puzzle; I'm thinking that it was created by a non-Taoist who saw the Taoist symbols somewhere and tried to recreate them (from memory) for a talismanic function.
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Old 14th March 2016, 07:31 PM   #13
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And here are some photos from the "Nam Giao sacrifice." I altered the first photo to bring out the details of the decoration...even though the shape of the shield is different (pentagonal, rather than oval), you can see the decoration is very similar to my first shield. On the left side of that photo (and in the other photos), you can see an oval shield that's close (or identical) to the shape of mine. I can't find a reliable attribution as to the date of these photos, but I'm guessing early twentieth century.

The illustration is from a French book on the subject of Vietnamese religious ceremonies, dated 1915.

The color photo is of the modern recreation of the ceremony in Hue.
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Old 15th March 2016, 04:55 AM   #14
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VERY INTERESTING AND UNUSUAL. THE DESIGNS ON THE TOP AND BOTTOM OF THE SECOND SHIELD REMIND ME OF THE CHINESE DEPICTION OF A BAT. THE FACES ARE DIFFERENT BUT THOSE CURVED THINGS MAY REPRESENT ITS WINGS. GOOD LUCK ON YOUR CONTINUING RESEARCH.
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Old 15th March 2016, 02:10 PM   #15
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Curious. The depiction is actually of a dragon biting on a shou symbol...his two claws are resting on a couple of highly-stylized clouds. However, you have a valid point: the overall profile of the artwork very much resembles stylized bats that I've seen elsewhere.
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