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The Coming of the Maori


Throughout polynesia, the principal tool was the adze, made from basalt on volcanic islands and from tridacna shell on atolls. Authentic old hafted took are rare, except adzes from central Polynesia, and most of the material available for study consists of the stone heads which have survived the decay of their wooden hafts and fibrous lashing material. Adze heads are distinguished by the cutting edge being formed by one bevel on the back like European adzes and chisels, and axe heads theoretically by two bevels, one on each side like a European axe. Hafted adzes have the cutting edge at right angles to the line of the handle, and axes should have the cutting edge in the same line as the handle.

Adze heads are best described in the upright position with the cutting edge below and the bevel forming it, to the back. The four surfaces of a quadrangular adze are thus front (anterior), back (posterior), and two sides (lateral). The surfaces are defined by longitudinal edges which are characteristic of Polynesian adzes, whereas in Melanesian adzes they are rounded off, forming an elliptical cross-section. Some adzes are triangular in section; those with the base at the back having a back surface with two inclined sides in front and those with the base in front having a front surface with two inclined sides at the back. The sharp median edge forming the apex of the triangular section in both groups may be ground off to form an extra narrow surface or it may be absent because the stone used was not thick enough for the converging sides to meet. Such adzes are termed subtriangular.

The top extremity of an adze head is the poll and the upper part which is lashed to the haft is the butt, the part below being the blade. The front and sides of the butt, or the sides alone, may be reduced to form a better grip for the lashing and such implements are termed tanged adzes. In tanged adzes, the shoulder formed by the reduction defines the division page 180between butt and blade but in untanged adzes, the division is purely arbitrary and was determined by the craftsman who hafted the adze. The lower end of the back surface was ground to the bevel required to meet the front surface in forming the cutting edge. The junction of the cutting edge bevel and the back surface may form a distinct edge or it may be rounded off. Triangular adzes with the base in front have a triangular bevel and a wide cutting edge. Triangular adzes with the base at the back have the front median edge ground down at its lower end to form a front surface so that the posterior bevel may form a cutting edge, which is much narrower than in the other form of triangular adze.

Fig. 35. Terms and hafting.a, b, terms; c, transverse lashing; d, triple triangle lashing (Rarotonga); e, triple triangle lashing (Mangaia).

Fig. 35. Terms and hafting.
a, b, terms; c, transverse lashing; d, triple triangle lashing (Rarotonga); e, triple triangle lashing (Mangaia).

The haft consisted of a shaft or handle with a foot set vertically at less than a right angle with the shaft. The shaft was usually selected from a secondary tree branch and a section of the larger branch was cut out with it to form the foot. The foot usually projected above and below the junction with the shaft, the part above being the heel and the part below, the toe (Fig. 35a, b). Some hafts have no heel and others have no toe. It is interesting that a Maori myth states that the form of the haft was derived from the human leg, the leg indicating the handle and the foot indicating the part to which the stone head was lashed.

Throughout marginal Polynesia, the general form of adze was quadrangular and the type of haft had a toe long enough to accommodate the page 181entire butt which was lashed to the toe with simple transverse turns of sennit (Fig. 35c). In such hafts, the heel did not function and in some hafts, it was trimmed off. In central Polynesia (Society, Cook, and Austral Islands), the form of adze in general use at the time of European contact was triangular in section with the base in front. A fair number of old hafted adzes from the Society and Cook Islands, preserved in museums, clearly indicate the form of haft and the method of lashing. The hafts had no toe and the middle part of the foot was grooved to fit the posterior median edge of the triangular adze heads. The adze heads were practically all tanged and the tanged butt was lashed to the foot by figure-of-eight turns which passed around the heel to form an ornamental as well as an efficient lashing (Fig. 35d, e). This technique has been described by me for the Cook Islands (99, p. 160) as the triple triangle lashing and a variation has been described for Mangaia (99, p. 165). Quadrangular adze heads have been collected in central Polynesia but I have never seen an authentic old hafting of one from that area.