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Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People

Kanava-akau—General Name of Weapons *

Kanava-akau—General Name of Weapons *

Tau is the Niuē word for fighting, and kau is an army; malē-tau is a battle-field. The people fought with cleaving clubs (general name, katona), barbed spears (tao) and with polished stones (maka), which were thrown by hand without the aid of slings. There was a good deal of science displayed in using their heavy clubs, both in guarding and striking, the motions reminding me of the action of the Maoris with the taiaha, which the Niuē katoua is not unlike. There was art displayed in avoiding (kalo or patali) the spears thrown, which, being barbed with hard kieto wood made very nasty wounds. It has been previously noticed that pieces of green kava root were fastened on to the barbs (hoe) of the spear to cause irritation in the wounds, and from the manner the hard barbed part was fastened on to the haft (fuata) it would easily break off and leave the barbed part in the wound. Some of the spears have two and three separate prongs to them. The following is a list of the Niuē arms, specimens of all of which may now be seen in the Auckland and Taranaki museums:–

Katoua Varies from 3 to 6 feet long, the blade 3 to 6 inches broad.
Papa Is broader than a katoua, but same shape.
Fakahutuaniu Not so broad as the above, but thick.
Ulufuamiti Somewhat like the katoua, but instead of a spike at the broad end it is curved sharply.
Ulu-puku A small hand-club. Plate No. 6.
Gutu-mea Is a narrow club, but the striking end curved. (?) Also called a pelu, and uluhelu.

There are ten different kinds of spears, all much the same in shape and all barbed with kieto wood (ebony). Several were carried by each warrior (toa) in fighting,—such a bundle was called taga-hulu-fe.

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On the top line is a paddle (fohe) (P. 64, No. 3;) below is a tika, or dart used in the game ta-tika; below that, an arrow (fanā) with barbed points, used in shooting birds; below is the ordinary tao (p. 64, No. 5 and 6) or barbed spear; below that is a tao-mata-ua (P. 64, No. 7) or double pronged barbed spear; below that a katoua, or cleaving club; and at the bottom a short katoua or ulu-puku.

The scale is shown in inches. Figures in brackets refer to J. Edge Partington's “Album”

page 61
  • Tao-hoehoe, barbed.

  • Tao-tala-tolu,

  • Tao-maga,

  • Kau-valovalo, a long, thick spear without barbs.

  • Tao-matatolu, 3-pronged.

  • Tao-uvake,

  • Tao-kete,

  • Tao-mata-ua, 2-pronged.

  • Tao-haufua,

  • Ulu-miti, short, thick spear 3 to 4 feet long.

The tao-kete is not a fighting spear, but is used in dances, &c.,—its end is split, and so rattles when shaken. Uaki is a spear in one piece, without a separate barb.

Of the fighting stones (maka) these are about 4 to 5 inches in the longest diameter, and 3 to 4 inches in the shorter; they are usually made of coral, smooth, pointed, and polished. The names are:–

  • Maka-uli, black-stone.

  • Maka-kīkī, blackish grey in color.

  • Maka-gēegēe, made of tridacna shell.

  • Maka-tatili, very smooth and polished.

  • Fatu-kalā, not very smooth.

  • Maka-gutu-umu-ti, taken from an oven.

  • Maka-poupou-ana, made of stalactite. See Plate 7.

  • Makafua, rough stone from forest. Maka-pihi,

A supply of these stones was carried in baskets, but the warriors also carried in their war girdles a large supply—as many as 50, it is said—to cast at the enemy. When these were exhausted they took to the rough stones lying about, says my informant, Fakalagatoa. The maka-uli, or black stone, I have seen a few of. They are made of rough basaltic lava, and have been brought to the island, for there is no such stone native to it. I believe the Fatu-kalā is also a basaltic stone; it is interesting to find the common Polynesian name for basalt—kalā—attached to it, i.e., the Eastern Polynesian name, from Hawaii to New Zealand, but not known apparently in Tonga or Samoa, though ‘ala is a stone worn smooth by the sea in the latter place, but does not fit the Niuē meaning. The first part of the name, fatu, is also not Niuē, it means a stone—clearly the name was imported with the stone.

The katoua and other clubs of that kind were used to strike with, and they are sufficiently heavy to cleave a man's head open down to the shoulders. Club is a wrong name for this arm, just as much as it is for the Maori taiaha, which it is not unlike; halbert is a better name, but it differs even from that. The sharp lower end (the tongue of the taiaha) is used to pierce the enemy after he is on the ground. The flat spike at the upper end is not used in fighting—it is apparently intended for ornament. Captain Cook no doubt was right in saying these people presented a very savage and fierce appearance as they advanced on him and his party. It was customary to wear nothing but the kafa, or girdle, and malo, the body and face blackened (hamo), and the beard tucked into the mouth, the face contorted with grimaces, the eyes wildly staring, whilst they jumped about defying (fakafiu) the enemy (fi). The toa or brave who distinguished himself was thought very highly of. Fata-a-iki (loc. cit.) says: “The braves (toa) of Niuē-fekai were named Togia. Whenever anyone showed great bravery they page 62 gave him the name Togia-kai-ota (Togia-eat-food-raw), but no one else was so-called. If a man was brave he was always named Togia.” A very prominent warrior, who had been the cause of the death of many of his enemies, was often doomed to death at the earliest opportunity, and his opponents would conspire to this end. Such a warrior was termed Ika-kupega, a fish for the net, in which expression we recognise the common Maori term for a dead body killed in war—ika. The foremost brave who rushed into the fight was called the Mata-ulu-e-toko, and he had a second as a support. All of this was arranged, of course, before the fighting commenced. In the actual fight the braves from either side would challenge one another (fepalēkoaki) to combat, and these toas did tau-mamate (fight to the death).

Before going into actual fight a ceremony called Tugi-maama-atu was sometimes performed: its object was to curse and paralyse the enemy. I have no particulars beyond the fact that the points of the spears were put into a fire, the object of which is not clear, for the kieto points are very hard naturally.

Fighting was sometimes carried to extremes, and endeavours made to utterly destroy (fakaotioti) the inhabitants of some village. But it is probable this never really came to pass, for all the people had relatives in the different villages. Nevertheless, many of the defeated party had to fly to the woods and inaccessible rocks, and there live a life of extreme hardship, only stealing out from their lairs at night to look for food.

Others again were enslaved (fakatupa). Generally these would be women and children, for slavery as an institution was unknown, in the same manner that it prevailed amongst the Maoris. The name for slave is tupa, a crab, and it is somewhat strange that the Rarotonga term for a slave was unga, also meaning a crab.

The Niné people, although acquainted with the bow (kau-fana; fané, an arrow), never used it in warfare any more than did any other branch of the Polynesians. It was used for shooting birds and rats. The arrows (one of which will be seen in Plate 6) were about 5 feet long and had four barbed points made of hard wood, whilst the shaft was made of cane (ra). The bows that I saw were very primitive affairs from 4 to 5 feet long and not at all well made.

The people also used short hand-clubs made of ebony (kieto) with a knob at the end. These are 10-12 inches long, and only effective, of course, at very close quarters (see Plate 7).

* Plate No. 6 shows several of these arms. The numbers in brackets refer to Mr. J. Edge-Partington's “Album of Ethnology of the Pacific,” where some of them are shown. Thus: (P. No. 4, p. 63).

I have a note to the effect that this club is like a long Maori tokotoko, but the description above is probably correct—it was given me by Fakalagatoa.

I have a note to the effect that this club is like a long Maori tokotoko, but the description above is probably correct—it was given me by Fakalagatoa.