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Samoan Material Culture


page 583


The clubs are all wooden, cut in one piece out of the solid. The wood preferred was pau, but ironwood (too) was also used, and in Tutuila, the saitamu was utilized. The clubs were originally cut out with stone adzes, but the early introduction of steel implements has probably resulted in some elaborate forms created for trade and ceremonial.

After being shaped, the clubs were rubbed smooth (olo) with 'ana, a species of nullipore used as a pumice stone. A further polish was imparted by rubbing with a smooth stone or a shell.

The clubs consist of a number of types. The main characteristics and origins of the types may be best understood by following them through the initial stage of construction. After selecting and cutting his timber, the club maker adzes out the timber into the rough shape of the particular type. This must be of the maximum thickness and width of the particular club as edges, spikes, teeth, and all the individual characteristics have to be cut out of the solid for nothing is added or joined on. The first rough stage may be termed the structural foundation of the club.

The structural pattern. For certain types of club, the structural pattern already existed in the growing plant. A suitable sapling formed the foundation of the billet clubs and batons. The sapling dug up by the roots formed the foundation of the rootstock clubs, and particularly thick, expanded roots may have influenced an early form of mace and throwing club. After cutting off suitable lengths, the craftsman went on with the second stage of elaboration in whittling down the grip and dealing with the two ends.

For the clubs with a bigger head or a wider blade than a natural sapling could provide, the maximum sized timber had to be cut and adzed into the rough structural pattern before the second stage of elaboration could be proceeded with. The rough shape had to fulfill particular requirements and follow a certain plan for the various types. Each type of club thus had a particular structural pattern which, while providing scope for the elaboration of the type, also entailed certain limitations as to shape. The craftsman cut out his structural pattern according to plan, and the rough shape was associated in his mind with some natural object. He adzed it to that rough shape and in doing so expressed the process by using the word fa'a (made like or to the shape of). These structural patterns were made to the shape of the pandanus fruit (aufala), the coconut leaf stalk or midrib (lapalapa) the banana leaf (laufa'i), the paddle (foe), and the lobe of the ear (lautalinga). Whatever the idea that gave birth to a type, the first stage of construction followed one or other of the above structural shapes. Both the coconut stalk and page 584the paddle are evidently so old as motives that various types have been evolved from them with distinctive names. In the other three, however, the process of, shaping is retained in the names of the club types as fa'aaufala (mace), fa'alaufa'i (bilateral toothed club), and fa'alautalinga (ear shaped club).

The head, or blade. The head of the mace, or of the throwing club is merely a larger section of the material and further treatment deals with cutting out spikes or rounding off the head. In the other clubs which are adzed down or split to provide the width to form a laterally expanded blade, one form of treatment in the rough shaping stage persists through all types of clubs. The coconut stalk, banana leaf, paddle, and ear lobes are bilateral with an equal spread outwards from the middle line. The blade is thickest in the median longitudinal line. With the timber or plank flat on the ground, the craftsman adzes the blade outward from the middle line with a slightly downward slope towards the lateral edges. On this side, there is, therefore, a distinct median longitudinal edge formed by the junction of two surfaces which are on different inclined planes. The plank is turned over, and the process repeated so that the blade is made much thinner at the lateral edges than in the middle line. This is ordinary craftsmanship to make the lateral edges thinner or even sharp so as to inflict an incised wound, and to strengthen the blade by keeping the middle part thick. The important point is that in all clubs the median longitudinal edge is the orthodox technique, and is not afterwards rounded off. If the occasional thick lateral edges which may form a narrow surface are omitted, the blade has four surfaces and is lozenge-shaped in cross section, the short diameter extending between the median longitudinal edges on either side, and the long diameter between the lateral edges. The term median longitudinal edge is used in preference to ridge, as ridge may convey the idea of a specially raised part which rises above the adjoining surfaces. The edge is distinct and characteristic, but it is merely the meeting of two surfaces. It may be exaggerated by making the surfaces slightly concave on either side, but is distinct from a carinated or raised ridge, which occurs in a few clubs as a specialization of the median edge.

From the occurrence of the median longitudinal edges on opposite sides of the clubs as orthodox technique it is seen that the craftsman followed the coconut stalk and paddle forms in general shape alone. The coconut stalk at the butt is transversely concave on its upper surface and convex on its lower. The Samoan paddle is transversely flat or slightly concave on its back and the median longitudinal edge of the front extends only a short distance down from the handle. Both coconut stalk and paddle clubs have a median longitudinal edge on either side extending to the far end of the blade.

Distal end of club. The treatment of the far end of the club is thus readily understood when the structural pattern of the club is known. Clubs derived from the coconut stalk pattern cannot have a functional point, whereas, page 585the clubs elaborated from the banana leaf or paddle patterns in the rough cannot well be without them.

The shaft is merely the continuation of the general shape in round billets, but in other clubs it narrows off the lateral expansions and median longitudinal edges to the round section of the grip.

The grip in all clubs is rounded to suit the grip of the hands. It is usually 1.3 inches in diameter, but in some, it may be slightly elliptical. The hypertrophic toothed and hook clubs are also thick in the grip. The Samoan clubs may have some narrow bands of carving round the grip, or a few narrow bands of sennit braid, each band consisting of not more than three turns of braid knotted to form rings. Most grips are perfectly plain. The close braid wrapping characteristic of Fijian clubs is not present. (See figure 306.)

Figure 306.—Proximal ends, clubs—flanges and flaring:

Figure 306.—Proximal ends, clubs—flanges and flaring:

a, flange (1) characteristic of Fijian clubs, seen also in some Tongan clubs which show Fijian influence, also seen in a few clubs said to be Samoan, but which from the type are with little doubt Fijian; b, characteristic flange (1) of Niue club with proximal point (2) used for thrusting; c, Fijian flange (1) used to keep sennit wrapping (2) of grip from slipping over end; d, Niue flange (1) also used to prevent sennit wrapping (2) of grip from slipping; e, Samoan club with typical flaring (1); no sennit wrapping used but occasionally narrow bands of sennit braids (2); suspensory lug (3).

The proximal end of the handle is usually flared. The hook and tooth clubs and occasional odd clubs are of the same thickness at the end as at the grip. Fijian clubs are characterized by absence of flaring, the end being of the same diameter as the grip, but terminated by a distinct flange which forms what Churchill (5, p. 95) calls a flat cap. Churchill looked upon it as giving more security to the lower hand as well as supplying ornamentation. Churchill looked upon the Niue flange as being also for supporting the lower hand and the point as purely ornamental. As regards the Niue point, it was made primarily for thrusting. The use of the Niue weapons has been demonstrated personally to me in Niue. Though the larger ones are clumsy weapons, they resemble the New Zealand clubs in the principle of striking with the blade and thrusting with the point.

page 586

Flanges from both Niue and Fiji were made primarily not for supporting the lower hand but to prevent the sennit braid seizing of the grip, characteristic of the clubs of those areas, from working over the end of the handle. (See figure 306.)

The absence of the flange in true Samoan clubs is an important diagnostic point. Churchill stated that flanges were present in Samoan clubs, whereas the condition he meant to describe was flaring. A flange is a raised rim which expands outward at a sharp angle from the general surface and thus forms some support for strengthening or for attaching to something else as in the flanges of canoe planks or the Fijian weapon flange, which supports the braid wrapping round the grip. A flare, on the other hand; is a spreading outward of the general surface in a curve without any definite angle as in the ends of bark cloth beater handles and Samoan weapons. The flare gives support to the hand, but is not meant to support any structural addition. The absence of a flange and the absence of close seizing round the grip in Samoan clubs go together. The Samoan got support for his lower hand from the flaring of the handle end. The Fijian and Niuean got a firm grip for both hands from the sennit wrapping, though no doubt the flange also gave support.

The lug. After cutting out the characteristics of the club type, the Samoan made a lug at the end of the handle to carry a cord for hanging the weapon up. The lug is formed by cutting down the proximal end square with the long axis, but leaving a mesial piece ranging from 0.2 to 0.4 inches in thickness and projecting up to 0.8 inches. The projection was trimmed in a number of shapes. (See figure 307.)

Figure 307.—Samoan clubs, proximal flared ends with types of suspensory lug:

Figure 307.—Samoan clubs, proximal flared ends with types of suspensory lug:

a, triangular lug (1) with apex (2) and sides of triangle extending to the edges (3) of the flared end and thus forming variety (a); b, triangular lug (1) with apex (2), sides not reaching flared edges but stopping short on end surface (3) and thus forming variety (b); c, pentagonal lug (1) with apex (2), sides cut down vertically to form extra sides (3) which do not reach flared edges; d, curved lug (1) with apex (2) rounded off and ends extending to flared edges (3); e, quadrangular lug (1) further stage of (c) with apex cut off to form a straight edge (2) above, sides (3) not reaching flared edge.

Even where the grip is perfectly round, the flared end is usually of two different diameters, the greater diameter generally following the transverse spread of the blade or head. The lug usually follows the greater diameter of the flared end. In some clubs owing to a prominent mesial longitudinal edge on the blade, the greater diameter of the flare follows it and becames vertical. page 587Then the lug again usually follows the greater diameter. In quite a number of clubs, however, the plane of the lug does not follow the greater diameter of the flared end. No rule can be laid down, but the important feature is that the lug is usually present.

The hole is usually bored straight through the middle of the lug at its base. Churchill remarked in some of his clubs that the hole had been bored in from either side of the lug at a slope so as to meet in a V-shaped manner. In short clubs of the baton type, there is no lug and an attachment hole is bored transversely through the end of the handle from side to side, or diagonally from the proximal end surface through to the side. This sometimes occurs in larger clubs, especially as a secondary measure after the lug has been broken.

The cross rib. In shaping the structural pattern of certain clubs, the craftsman made the material thicker in certain parts. These were afterwards cut down into cross-ribs extending transversely, or obliquely across the blade from the middle line. Churchill (5, p. 57) states that the sennit tie round the base of the coconut leaf stalk used in club fighting is "susceptible" of being the source of the raised ribs in the coconut-stalk clubs. While lashings are capable of being represented on the club by bands of carving and perhaps a raised rib, the origin of the cross-ribs is much more likely to have arisen from technical methods. Some types of paddle clubs have the cross-rib as an essential part of their structure and yet there are no cross lashings in the original paddle motive. The cross-rib was much used by Samoan carpenters to strengthen wood that is purposely reduced in thickness to form a plank. It is used in the planks of plank canoes as a routine procedure, and even on the back of boards purposely made for use in scraping" the paper mulberry bark. Hence the club maker, who was probably carpenter as well, could use spaced ribs to strengthen the blade of a coconut stalk club by simply falling back on the established methods of his craft. Besides strengthening the blade, the projecting ends of the cross ribs were a useful striking adjunct to reinforce the death dealing requirements of the blade edge. In paddle clubs, the cross rib was utilized to form a division between blade and shaft and the projecting ends again augmented the blade edge in certain types.

Very little detailed information regarding the names and uses of clubs was obtained in the field. Most of the old authentic clubs have disappeared from Samoa into private and museum collections. The study of weapons is thus a museum study which needs compiling and checking from the museums throughout the world. Museum collections again are much confused by containg clubs made for sale and clubs derived from private collections in which the true locality of the clubs is extremely doubtful. Clubs from Fiji and Tonga have been obtained in Samoa and add further confusion. Under the circumstances, the Bishop Museum collection of 50 clubs, which includes many models, has been augmented by the study of the types described by page 588Churchill, Kramer, and Edge-Partington. Churchill's work (5) is very exhaustive for the material described, but, while attributing a type to Samoa, no actual Samoan clubs are described. On the other hand, when not including Samoa in the province ("provenence") of a type, clubs of the type are described as coming from Samoa. Churchill's names of types have been retained whenever possible.