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Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands



First Period

The weapons of Polynesia vary so much that in each group, they must have undergone considerable local change from common ancestral types. The weapons of each island in the Cook group are so diverse that it is possible that the first settlers on each island brought in different forms of clubs.

Spears under the widespread name of tao are extremely simple as compared with the many-pointed composite spears of Melanesia, and the usual form with shaft and point in one piece was probably the form introduced. Short spears were used as throwing javelins and long spears as pikes. The notching of the point to form simple barbs is probably old. Separate wooden points were made in the Austral Islands, Niue, Aitutaki and probably in other islands as an alternative form. The barb of a sting ray attached to a wooden shaft was used in Mangareva, New Zealand, and other areas and hence is an old form. However, the effectiveness of a sting ray barb as a spear point could have occurred independently wherever sting rays were caught. A separate, barbed, bone point is reported from Mangareva (77, fig. 8).

The diversity in clubs offers a greater problem as to prototypes. Unfortunately no old clubs were available from Aitutaki for comparative study. The simplest form of Cook Islands club is the narrow-bladed, pointed club of Atiu (fig. 172, a-e) which developed a wider blade in the unique club from Mauke (fig. 172, f). A wider and longer plain blade is also found in Raro-page 461tonga (fig. 178, a ). The smooth-edged blade with a distal point might well have been the precursor of later types developed during occupation.

The sling was used throughout the volcanic islands of Polynesia except in Easter Island and New Zealand where they were evidently abandoned. It must have come in with the first settlers of the Cook Islands.

Second Period

Later elaboration occurred with the spear points. The Rarotongan spear (fig. 187) with a series of four short barbs and the Aitutaki puapua inano point are examples of a development which reached a peak in the Samoan form known as le tala o le lo (the barb of the porcupine fish), in which the barbs point in three directions (73, fig. 316, c).

The narrow Rarotongan serrated club (fig. 174) resembles in general form the shape of the Atiu blade and the affinity is increased by the V-shaped flange treatment of the butt point in Atiu and Rarotonga. No serrated clubs have been reported from the Society and Austral Islands. Leaving out the Mangaian serrated clubs for the present, the nearest serrated clubs occur in Tua-motu and Samoa. In these island groups, the serrations are either straight or slightly convex, whereas the Rarotongan serrations are formed by beautifully executed concave curves. The Atiu serrated clubs were evidently similar to those of Rarotonga, for Cook (20, p. 196) describes the edges as "nicely scalloped." The Rarotongan serrations are further defined by curved flanges, a feature absent in Samoa and Tuamotu. If diffusion from the west through Samoan ancestors is accepted, all we can admit is the general idea of a serrated blade, for the technique of conveying that idea into effect is unique for Rarotonga and Atiu and is hence a local development during the period of occupation. As far as Rarotonga is concerned, the narrow-bladed, serrated clubs may be regarded as having been derived from a type like the Atiu plain edged type and the variations of medium and wide blades with even the blunt pointed type (fig. 178) as further local developments.

The Mangaian local myth regarding the digging up and splitting of the first ironwood tree implies that the spade club is ancient, but as the form preserved in the British Museum is peculiar to Mangaia we cannot be sure that the spade referred to in the myth was of the same shape. However, it was evidently the prototype of the Mangaian serrated club. The serrations differ from those of the Rarotongan technique in that the edges of the serrations are convex, the flanges are absent, and the distal end is broadly convex instead of pointed. The paddle-shaped club, though reminiscent of the paddle-shaped blade of the Mauke clubs, is unique in the addition of the long slender point. The cruder club (fig. 181, f) illustrates a more primitive type. It is possible page 462that some of the clubs named, of which no specimens have so far been discovered, might have supplied links with other clubs. Of the material available, the serrated and the pointed paddle clubs are specialized forms developed in Mangaia. Another characteristic of Mangaian clubs is the use of spaced bands of sennit around the shaft for ornamentation. Samoa has a similar usage with an identical technique.

A feature shared by Mangaian and Rarotongan clubs is the shoulder ornament, which follows the form of carving developed independently in each island. The clubs with lozenge-shaped blades characteristic of the Society and Austral Islands also have shoulder ornaments carved in their own forms of art. Hence, the Cook, Society, and Austral Islands share another feature, all using a carved protuberance to ornament the boundary between blade and shaft. The carved shoulder ornament does not exist elsewhere in Polynesia.

A more significant feature, shared by Atiu, Mauke, Rarotonga, Mangaia, and probably Aitutaki, is the pointing of the butt ends of long clubs. This introduces the important principle of using both ends of the club, the blade for striking or thrusting and the butt end for thrusting. The functional double-ended clubs form a marked contrast to the short, heavy clubs of Samoa and Tonga which usually have lugs for suspension on the blunt or slightly flared butt end (73, fig. 307). The butt point is not known in Hawaii, Marquesas, Mangareva, and Easter Island. It occurs on some of the long clubs of the Society and Austral Islands and on all the three main types of New Zealand clubs. It also occurs, curiously enough in Niue, where it may be regarded as of independent origin. In the Society and Austral Islands, the butt ends are simply rounded off and pointed with no distal enlargement or flanges. However, some of the Austral Islands clubs and spears have a transverse circular flange some distance from the point. The Cook Islands clubs, with few exceptions, have flanged butt points; but two forms have been developed, the two-point or V-shaped flange in Atiu and Rarotonga (fig. 177) and the four-pointed flange in Mangaia (fig. 185). Though the four-pointed flange does appear on a few Rarotongan serrated clubs (fig. 177), it accompanies the long flat point characteristic of Rarotonga and differs in appearance from the short rounder point that is peculiar to Mangaia. In New Zealand, two of the clubs have long spear points which are bounded, from the shaft, by a carved human head. A third type, termed taiaha or hani has a flat carved point bounded above by a projecting flange. Though the taiaha point resembles the Rarotongan point in shape, the resemblance is due to convergence. The taiaha point is derived from the New Zealand use of the human head as an art motif. The small head carving in the other two types of clubs has been carried down nearer the point, the rounded spear point flattened out into a human tongue page 463to provide space for the double spiral carving motif. The flange is formed by the lips of the carved head above. The true flanged point is thus restricted to the Gook Islands.

Discarding the minor accessory details, the functional butt point in four groups of islands that have had direct communication with each other, deserves attention. I was told in Aitutaki that the butt point in long clubs was used to deal with an attack from the rear when attention was being primarily devoted to an opponent in front. It is probable that the butt point in the long clubs of the Society and Austral Islands were originally made for a similar purpose. If so, it was this purpose that originally diffused from the Society group probably to the Austral and Cook Islands. In the Cook Islands, however, some of the clubs were shortened and the butt point of such clubs could be used as an alternative form of frontal attack. Unfortunately we have no details as to how the double-ended clubs were used. In New Zealand, however, the principle of the double-ended club, carried on possibly from the Cook Islands, was definitely developed in the school of arms into an organized series of strokes, guards, and parries, in which the butt point was regarded as the more dangerous end of the club.

Third Period

Though organized warfare ceased after the general acceptance of the Christian faith, spears and clubs were made for use in dances at festivals. The Atiuans made good replicas of their old clubs (pl. 2, A), and the Rarotongans made cruder forms of their serrated clubs (pl. 1, A). The Mangaians, however, seem to have departed from old models for none of those made for dances (pl. 2, B) resemble the old clubs preserved in museums.