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Samoan Material Culture

The Unilateral-Toothed and Hook Clubs

The Unilateral-Toothed and Hook Clubs

The nifo'oti club is marked by a row of teeth on one side which are of the bevelled type seen in the bilateral-toothed clubs. The close set bevelled teeth of the nifo'oti club give it its name (nifo, teeth; 'oti, to cut). The toothed side of the nifo'oti club has little to distinguish it from the side of a fa'alaufa'i club, except that the teeth are longer and, owing to the nifo'oti club being much thicker in the median longitudinal line, there is a concave slope from the middle line to the points of the teeth. In the type figured (Pl. LI, 8) there is a slight space between the individual teeth. The bevel, however, of the sides of the teeth, and from the middle longitudinal edge of the blade are the same as described. Owing to the greater thickness and length of the teeth, they are more spiked in appearance, whereas the fa'alaufa'i teeth are flatter and more saw-like. As in the fa'alaufa'i, the toothed side has a proximal shoulder of the same nature. Beyond the distal tooth, the blade, after sharing in the tooth bevelling on the proximal side, is brought back square to the middle line. It is simply a tooth sharpened on the proximal side only.

The other side of the club is laterally expanded as if to provide another set of teeth which, however, are never made in the orthodox club. The distal end is further expanded as if forming one side of the head of an ear-shaped page 604club. The external angle or lobe seen in the ear-shaped club is prolonged proximally and the tendency to form a hook is here deliberately converted into one by carrying the short curve between the external angle and the blade back into the head. The club is thus unilaterally toothed with a hook on the other side.

The 5 nifo'oti clubs in Bishop Museum, of which some are small, all share the clumsy proportions of the type club and all are without suspensory lugs.

The nifo'oti is thus a hybrid compounded from other clubs. The toothed side may be regarded as a fa'alaufa'i club with the distal point cut off, or a coconut stalk club with the side cut into teeth. The untoothed side is a coconut stalk club with the distal end adopted from the ear-shaped clubs and the external angle exaggerated into a hook. Three well-shaped hybrid clubs; one figured by Edge-Partington (10, vol. 1, 73, No. 5); one by Kramer (18, vol. 2, p. 211, fig. 16 a); and one in Bishop Museum, indicate that the pattern from which the nifo'oti has been derived is more probably the coconut stalk than the banana leaf, and that the proximal shoulders have been due to the wider expansion of the blade to provide bevelled teeth. (See figure 315.)

Figure 315.—Unilateral toothed and hook club (nifo'oti) with probable precursors:

Figure 315.—Unilateral toothed and hook club (nifo'oti) with probable precursors:

a, Hybrid club in Bishop Museum; the left side is of the typical coconut stalk pattern with a wide distal end (1); the right side is also of the coconut stalk pattern but has a distal end (2) showing affinity with the ear-shaped clubs but the angle (3) is not so marked; no shoulder; the proximal end is flared and has a suspensory lug; length, 24.25 inches. b, Hybrid club figured by Edge-Partington; the blade has the coconut stalk pattern with the typical distal end (1) on the left and the ear-shaped form (2) on the right with the angle (3) more hook like than a; no shoulder; lower end flared; blade carved; length, 24.5 inches. c, A nifo'oti club, with left side cut into bevelled teeth and distal end (1) cut square; the right side is without teeth and the distal end (2) is typically ear-shaped with the angle (3) more concave on the inner side to form a hook; the wide blade results in shoulders (4) being formed at the shaft junctions; thick clumsy weapon, slight flaring, no suspensory lug; length, 40 inches. d, Modern steel nifo'oti, with cutting edge (1) and distal hook (2) on the right.

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Kramer (18, vol. 2, p. 216) figures a club with bevelled teeth on both sides and a similar bilateral-toothed club is in Bishop Museum.

A more modern development is the steel bladed weapon with a marked hook. (See figure 315 d.) This weapon formed the favorite club in the modern Samoan wars and also received the name of nifo'oti. Churchill (5, p. 79) states that it is simply the blubber knife of the whalers.

In discussing the significance of the term nifo'oti, Churchill (5, p. 78) quotes Kramer as stating that the hook on the club was used for the purpose of dragging corpses out from the heap of slain after which the head was sawn off with the teeth assisted by a stone axe. The hook was thus termed nifo-oti' (nifo, teeth; oti, dead), but closer examination resolved the name into nifo'oti (nifo, horn; 'oti, goat), from the resemblance of the hook to a goat's horn. Churchill objected to the term nifo-oti being translated as "tooth of the dead," for, from a linguistic standpoint it would mean dead tooth. The "goat's horn" meaning, he also rejected as being too modern and implying that the weapon had no name before the introduction of goats. He takes 'oti as meaning "to cut," and nifo'oti as being applied to the teeth (nifo) with which the head was cut off ('oti). The function of the hook as given by Churchill agrees with my own information, that the head was cut off and the successful warrior carried the trophy home on the hook.

The hybrid nature of the club indicates that the nifo'oti club is a later development than the three established clubs from which it derived elements, of form. The hypertrophied form without distinct proximal flaring and suspensory lugs together with its clumsy nature and lack of balance, all point to the ceremonial usage which accompanies the display of peace rather than the utility of war. The ear-shaped clubs and the composite ear-shaped and coconut stalk clubs (fig. 315, a and b) could both be used in warfare with good results. The exaggerated wooden nifo'oti club would be a misfortune to any warrior who had to use it in actual combat. Until well-balanced wooden nifo'oti with distinct hooks that were used in war before the advent of the blubber knife, can be described, the club must be regarded as a fairly modern development made for show purposes. The natural sequence would appear to be that hybrid clubs of the type depicted in figure 315, a and b, were toothed on one side and were termed nifo'oti from the fact that the teeth could inflict a cut. The cutting off of heads was beyond the scope of such a club and there was no incentive to produce the angle of the ear-shaped end into a hook. The advent of the blubber knife, however, provided not only an edge to sever the head, but a ready-made hook to carry it away. The hook carrying idea having been supplied, the angle of the ear-shaped end of the nifo'oti was shaped to form a hook. Through the hook motive, the wooden club then reacted on the steel weapon and provided it with the name of nifo'oti, although it had no cutting teeth (nifo'oti). The blubber knife became the functional page 606nifo'oti used in war and the wooden nifo'oti underwent the hypertrophy associated with the ceremonial observances of peace.