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The Atoll of Funafuti, Ellice group : its zoology, botany, ethnology and general structure based on collections made by Charles Hedley of the Australian Museum, Sydney, N.S.W.

Adzes and Axes

Adzes and Axes.

In 1773 Captain Cook found iron already in the hands of the South Sea Islanders. The process, then commencing, of replacing stone, shell, and bone with metal is now completed. For there is not an island, however remote, in Polynesia where non-metallic adzes are any longer used, only the remembrance of them existing in the minds of the oldest natives.

The collection of Ellice adzes and axes falls into two divisions, the ancient, non-metallic and extinct types represented by models, and those now in use in which a metal blade has been adapted to the ancient tool. Stone blades being obviously unattainable, the models of ancient adzes were set with shell ones. In every case the shell was Tridacna, though it is probable that in Funafuti, as elsewhere in the Pacific, other mollusca such as Mitra episcopalis, or Terebra maculata, would sometimes furnish adze-heads.

page 250

The Tridacna shell, particularly the thick part near the hinge, was in former times highly and widely esteemed for this purpose, as is recorded by Keate from the Pelews,* by Finsch from the Carolines, Marshalls, and Gilberts, by Guppy from the Solomons, by Dixon from Malden Island, § by Wilkes from the Paumotus, by Moseley from the Admiralties; and from Nanomea in the Ellice itself Finsch obtained a specimen of a Tridacna axe.

It would hardly have been anticipated that natives, like the Solomon and Pelew Islanders, in the possession of hard volcanic rock would have thus used this material, but Finsch repeatedly remarks that the greater toughness of the shell gives it an advantage over the more brittle stone.**

In the Carolines the same author found the Tridacna blades to assume various shapes, of which he figures a broad deltoid and a narrow chisel form. Some of these attain an immense size, reaching twenty inches in length and ten pounds in weight; such, he says, were common property.

Describing relics of the race who formerly inhabited Malden Island, Mr. W. A. Dixon writes:—"In the grave was a hatchet head with polished edge made from the shell of a tridacna… In many places there were numerous axe heads chipped roughly out of tridacna shells. These are tolerably easily made, the shell being first broken transversely, when a blow on the fractured surface breaks out from the interior of the shell an adze-shaped piece which seems to me to be the pattern on which many of the South Sea stone adzes are formed."‡‡

These tools are thus described by Keate, from the Pelews:—"Their hatchets were not unlike those of the South Sea Islands, the blade part being made of the strongest part of the large Kima Cockle, ground to a sharp edge…. Uncouth as their hatchets might appear to our people, it was a matter of surprise to observe in how little a time the natives were able to fell a tree with them, though not without breaking several." §§

A glance at a stone adze in the exhibition case of a museum might not impress a spectator with a high opinion of its utility

* Keate—An Account of the Pelew Islands, 1788, p. 312.

Finsch—Ann. K. K. Naturhist. Hofmus., viii., 1893, p. 65.

Guppy—The Solomon Islands, 1887, p. 76.

§ Dixon—Journ. Roy. Soc. N.S.W., ix., 1877 (1878) p. 175.

Wilkes—op. cit.

Challenger Reports—Narative, i., pt. ii., 1885, p. 716.

** "In Lepers Island, the stone adzes were called talai maeto, black clam shell, a name now given to iron the native adze was evidently at first of shell, talai, and when stone was used the old name was retained. "Codrington—The Melanesians, 1891, p. 314.

Finsch—op. cit., p. 214, figs. 36-38.

‡‡ Dixon—op. cit.

§§ Keate—op. cit., p. 312.

page 251but on the first occasion on which I saw a stone adze used, my previous ideas on this subject were promptly dissipated. Passing a canoe-builder at work in Kerepunu, British New Guinea, I observed him hewing with a steel tomahawk while beside him lay a rotary stone adze. Being requested to show how the latter was employed, the native obligingly laid aside his European tool and resumed the Papuan one. Three years daily toil in the Queensland bush with an American axe had made me familiar with its use, and it was with the critical eye of a fellow-craftsman that I watched the Papuan axeman. I expected to see him chop with short, light strokes, but with astonishment I saw him plant his feet firmly, swing his adze over his left shoulder at full arm's length, sliding the left hand down the handle in doing so, and then, rising slightly on his toes, bring it down with all the force of every muscle in his arms, back, and legs. After freeing the chip, the adze went up and round and down, and down again, in the most workmanlike style. Under these blows a rain of chips, long, broad chips, sprang from the adze blade over the heads of the bystanders. The aim proved equal to the force, as a strip of timber disappeared inch by inch under well directed even strokes.

The model on which is based fig. 16, has a handle sixteen inches long, the shape of that of the ordinary plane iron adze. A short limb, six inches in length, departs from the handle at an angle of about thirty-five degrees, on the outer distal side of which the adze head is let in. Flat sinnet, interlaced as shown in the figure, binds this on firmly. The head itself is a rough deltoid chip, three inches long, two broad, and half an inch thick, from the valve of Tridacna squamosa, the inner face of the valvebeing applied to the wood, while upon the outer the ridges, furrows, and scales can still be distinguished; a blunt chisel edge is produced by grinding the outer surface. This tool was known in Funafuti as the "toki fasua" (lit. Tridacna Adze).

Fig. 16.

Fig. 16.

Another extinct type, reproduced in models for me by the natives, was the "toki fonu," or Turtle Axe. It is exceptional to find an axe (as opposed to an adze) in Polynesia.* The Tongans could only express an axe to Mariner by circumlocution as, "togi fucca anga gehe—an adze having the blade differently turned with respect to the handle." The range of this type is probably inconsiderable, as other lands

* In Papua the ceremonial tools seem all axes, not adzes. Finsch figures a hoop-iron axe from the Dentrecasteaux;—Ethnol. Atlas, pl, i., fig. 8.

page 252yield superior material inabundance, and it may fairly be assumed to be restricted to the low coral islands of the Central Pacific. Edge-Partington cites* these axes from Nukulailai, Nieue, the Gilberts, and New Caledonia, the last I suspect to be erroneous. They were observed by Whitmee (ante, p. 45) on Vaitupu. The Australian Museum possess a series from Mortlock Island. A group of these turtle axes is published by the former author under the erroneous heading of "Bone War Axes." As a matter of theory these articles seem too light, weak, and clumsy, to serve a warrior; the feel and balance of a real weapon, of however humble an origin, is unmistakable and when gripped by even the hand of an ethnological student can stir a man's blood with magic invitation. As a matter of fact I have Mr. J. O'Brien's assurance that these axes were kitchen utensils, used by the women to split coconuts and chop the soft pandanus boughs. It answers, in fact, to the wooden adze used in Tahiti for splitting breadfruit. Turtle axes from Matty Island differ from other known forms in having the blade pinned instead of lashed to the handle.§

The model represented in fig. 17, has for handle a round, fairly straight stick, sixteen inches long and an inch thick. At the distal end a groove three and a half inches long and a quarter of an inch deep is cut to receive the head. This is a trapezoid piece of turtle (Chelone midas) cara-pace, six and a half inches long and, across the blade, four broad, which is ground on its inner surface to a chisel edge; the proximal end is pierced with two circular holes, through which pass the strands of sinnet that firmly bind the head to the handle.

Fig. 17.

Fig. 17.

The ordinary form of adze, which every man owns and reckons as his most useful possession, is the plane-iron adze, the "toki" of Funafuti, a word which reappears as "togi" in Tonga, and "tosi" in Penrhyn Island, etc. The plane-Fig. 17. iron adze is the direct descendant of the Tridacna adze of ancient days, being used and mounted

* Edge-Partington—loc. cit., i., pls. xiv., cxxxii.; ii., pl. xciv.

Again (Journ. Anthrop. Inst., xxv.) a turtle-shell axe from Matty Island is described as used in battle. The intrinsic evidence of the description is not convincing, since an edge which would not slice cheese is said to slice flesh. This Matty Island axe seems to me designed for lopping pandanus fruit from the tree. In this paper the race inhabiting Matty Island is not classified. A comparison of the articles described there with those of Funafuti forcibly suggests to me a Polynesian source.

Ellis—Polynesian Researches, i, 1832, p. 177, fig.

§ Edge-Partington—Journ. Anthrop. Inst., xxv., 1896, pl. xxiv., figs. 11, 12.

page 253similarly. This tool plays the part in Polynesia which the toma-hawk takes in Australia; in a native's hand it does duty for half the tools in a carpenter's kit, a keen edge is always kept on the blade, which is used with skill, speed and accuracy. The Funafuti natives when carrying an adze usually prefer rather to hook it over the shoulder than to grasp it in the hand. I observed the same trick in British New Guinea and in the Dentrecasteaux Archipelago. Keate figures a native of the Pelew Islands in this posture,* and Moseley another from the Admiralty Islands,
The original of fig. 18 was a parting gift from my Polynesian friend its owner, whose name is carved upon the handle. In weight it is fourteen ounces, and in length seventeen and a half inches. The handle, the shape of the Arabic numeral 7, is highly polished by hand friction, it differs from that of the Tridacna adze only in the blade being let in for a greater length, but a quarter of the length of the iron projecting beyond the wood. This is an ordinary European plane-iron sunk in a bevel, and is attached by interlaced sinnet as described in the case of the Tridacna axe. From the Admiralty Islands an almost identical specimen was procured by the "Challenger" Expedition.
Fig. 18.

Fig. 18.

The Rotatory Adze is constructed with such mechanical ingenuity that it is difficult to believe it to be an indigenous possession of a people so low in the state of civilisation as the subject of our study.§ From negative evidence I judge that the Rotatory Adze formed no part of the Polynesian heritage, but that its presence in Funafuti is due to that inter-course with the Gilberts which conferred so many benefits upon the southern archipelago.

For a contrivance of so much interest the Rotatory Adze appears to have attracted scanty notice in ethnological literature. The mechanical principle of this tool has in the Pacific developed three expressions.

* Keate—op. cit., plate facing p. 55.

Moseley—Journ. Anthrop. Inst., vi., 1877, pl. xxiii., fig. 2.

Moseley—Challenger Reports—Narrative, i., pt. ii.,1885, p.716, fig. 247.

§ In Java a reversible axe-adze was used, the head being bound on with raw hide, and in Central Africa another reversible axe-adze was employed.

But the following sentence in a description of Hawaiian tools indicates apparently that the Rotatory Adze existed there. "In a form much used for the interior work of a canoe, the stone is so mounted as to turn to one side or the other, thus becoming, as needed, a right or left-hand adze."—Cat. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum" pt. i., 1892, p. 43.

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(I.)The Western Papuans make a club-shaped adze-handle, through a perforation in the thick end of which is thrust the mounted stone adze-head, the latter rotating as required in the perforation.* The Australian Museum possess a series of this pattern, collected by the Expedition of the Geographical Society of Australasia to the Fly River, and also an instance from Hermit Island to the west of the Admiralty Islands.
(II.)The second type, possessed by the Eastern Papuans, has been described by Finsch, who states that it is called "lachela" on the South Coast of British New Guinea, and "ki," or "kis" in Finschhafen, German New Guinea. Here the stone blade is firmly attached to a wooden cone, the wood and stone together constituting the moveable adze-head, the upper surface of the short limb of the adze-handle is sloped and hollowed to receive the cone of the adze-head, and both cone and limb are embraced in a wide band or sleeve of woven rattan. When it is desired to rotate the blade, the butt of the adze head, which usually projects beyond the adze-handle, is tapped and slides forward, the adze-head is then turned to the required angle and thrust back into the rattan sleeve. Every subsequent blow, by driving the cone along and up the wedge of the short arm of the handle, tends to jamb the adze-head tighter into the rattan sleeve.§
(III)To the third expression, employed by the Micronesians, belongs the Funafuti tool, which invited attention to the foregoing; the only reference to this, known to me in literature, is more than a century old. Keate, writing of the Pelew Islands, remarks that, "they had also another kind of hatchet, which was formed in a manner to move round in a groove, that the edge might act longitudinally, or transversely, by which it would serve as a hatchet, or an adze, as occasion required." He also gives an elaborate engraving of this tool with the legend, "A moveable Hatchet." On comparing Keate's picture and account with Finsch's sketch of a Tridacna adze from Kusaie (Carolines) I am

* This type is figured by Jukes—Voyage of the "Fly," i. 1847, plate facing p. 274; by D'Albertis—New Guinea, ii., 1880, figs. 6 and 11 of plate facing p. 378; by Finsch—Ethnological Atlas, pl. i., fig. 5; and by Edge-Partington—loc. cit., i., pl. ccxcviii., fig. 1.

Moseley figures and describes—loc. cit., ii., p. 717, fig. 249,—an axe from the Admiralty Islands, of which the blade was "merely jammed in a slot cut in a club-like billet of hard wood near its end." Other relations between the Fly River and Northern Papuans are referred to by Haddon—Cunningham Memoirs, x., 1894, p. 84.

Finsch—op. cit., iii., 1888, p. 328, fig. 36; vi., 1891, p. 71; also Ethnol. Atlas, pl. i., figs. 4, 7.

§ In an unfigured and undescribed type from New Britain, the shorter limb of the adze-handle tapers to a point and is received by a socket of wood and cane attached to the blade.

Keate—An Account of the Pelew Islands, 1788, p. 312, pl. ii., fig. 3.

Finsch—op. cit., viii., 1893, p. 215, fig. 39.

page 255tempted to believe that the German traveller had before him a Rotatory Adze, though the distinguishing feature of it escaped his observation. My reasons for this opinion are that the shell blade is shown not directly connected with the handle, but in-serted into a separate holder which is in turn fastened to the handle; and further that in the immovable adzes the method, which I have already described, of lashing the blade to the handle, is quite different, whereas the mode and lashing of the Caroline adze is exactly that of the Pelew Rotatory Adze, namely one series of backwardly and another of forwardly directed cords, arising from opposite sides of the handle and meeting above. This arrangement is seen again in an axe-adze Finsch figures from Guap, near D'Urville Island, German New Guinea.* The drawings of Edge-Partington are not sufficiently elaborated to permit much appeal to detail, but the points just discussed suggest to me that an adze, figured as from Pitcairn Island, is probably a Rotatory Adze. Recollecting that the "Bounty" mutineers found Pitcairn uninhabited, I regard this locality with suspicion. Others figured as from the Carolines, Santa Cruz, New Guinea and New Zealand (!) may perhaps belong to the group under consideration, as may that shown on p. 313 of Codrington's Melanesians.
If it be accepted, as it generally is, that the Plane-iron Adze is the direct descendant of the Stone or Shell Adze, then it cannot be denied that the Rotatory Adze I here figure is derived by parallel descent from an adze like that figured by Keate. Various aspects of a specimen of the Rotatory Adze now in common use in Funafuti, where it is called "atupa," are shown by fig. 19. The handle of the atupa differs from that of the toki, in that the short arm is produced so as to transform the 7 into an oblique and unsymmetrical T. The example selected for illustration weighs one pound, six ounces; the handle is two feet long and the head half as much. In this particular instance the cutting edge is a European hoe-blade; in another, part of an iron door-hinge has served, and probably scrap-iron in almost any form
Fig. 19.

Fig. 19.

* Finsch—Ethnol. Atlas, pl. 1, fig. 7.

Edge-Partington—loc. cit., ii., pl. xv., fig. 5.

Loc. cit., ii., pl. xciii., fig. 3;i., pl. ccc, fig. 3; pl. ccclxxx., fig. 3; pl. clxii. fig. 4.

page 256would be utilised. The iron is let into and lashed to a spade-shaped holder in precisely the fashion in which the plane-iron edge is fastened to its adze-handle. This wooden holder is about ten inches long, consisting of a round rotating shaft about six inches long and a wedge-head, the latter being four inches long, two broad, and at the thick end an inch and a quarter deep. The base of the wedge grinds against the truncated arm of the handle which receives the shock of the blow, while the shaft is nearly buried in a deep groove along the T head of the handle. Both. handle and holder are cross-furrowed by two deeply incised ring-grooves, one before and one behind, while vestiges of a third are apparent. Stout sinnet bindings occupy these grooves and keep the holder in its position in the groove of the handle.
Another, and as Keate's figure suggests, probably archaic, method of lashing the holder to the handle is shown (fig. 20) by a specimen I sketched, but could not obtain, on Funafuti.
Fig. 20.

Fig. 20.