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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands

Weapons and Fighting

Weapons and Fighting

Fighting was done with wooden spears and clubs. Wilkes (34) reports that there were battered spears and clubs resembling those of Fiji and Samoa around the largest post of the god house at Fakaofu. One informant at Atafu stated that there was but one type of spear (kalolo) used in ancient times. This was made of a single piece of pointed wood with barbs projecting toward the tail. No Tokelau weapons were edged with rows of shark teeth like the Gilbert and Ellice Islands weapons.

Spears which had survived many fights and had become famous for the victories they had brought to their owners were named and well-known throughout the islands. The names of only four of these are remembered: Tutu o Atua (The-messenger-of-the-gods), Tutu o Atahu (The-messenger-of-Atafu), Pilipili o te Akauloa (The-squid-of-the-akauloa-coral), Ponepone o te Lotovao (The-ponepone-fish-of-the-lake-in-the-bush). Spears became particularly famous if they had been used in duels between strong men (toa) of the islands. A war between two islands was often settled by a duel between two men chosen from the warriors on each side. A great warrior carrying his spear and accompanied by one or two followers appeared before the enemy and challenged their champion to duel. If the challenge was accepted, the two war parties assembled on either side of the malae or on the beach to watch the two individuals decide the outcome. The challengers, met, each carrying page 158 a spear on his right shoulder. Each grasped the point of the other's spear and placed it on his left shoulder. Both were accompanied by three or four men who stood behind and grasped the shaft of the spear of their leader. The spearing of an opponent was a great feat of strength, for one had to hold the opponent's spear while forcing his own spear, with the aid of the men behind him, and plunging it into the opponent's chest. These duels lasted for hours, and often when a man had been speared, another behind him took his place and recommenced the duel. It was the duty of the warrior's cousins, the sons of his eldest paternal aunt, to assist him in a duel.

The early inhabitants of the group and the later people who spread over the group from Fakaofu observed, by tacit agreement, certain formalities in battle. An attacking party might arrive by surprise, but on the first night they camped on an outlying islet, while messengers were sent to the village to state the cause of the attack and to challenge the defenders (p. 22). The following day the attacking party sailed to the village and landed on the beach. Taunts and challenges were hurled back and forth, and if a duel did not take place, a general onslaught occurred. It was customary to spare an enemy who had fallen and was found behind the lines. A famous incident of this took place at Nukunuku, where a Nukunuku man smeared himself with the blood of a child he had slaughtered and then lay down quietly until the Fakaofu war party had passed by (p. 19). He then demanded that his life be spared on the basis of this rule of war.

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