UNTIL CHRISTIANITY SPREAD THROUGHOUT FIJI in the second half of the 19th century, the South Pacific island was riven by constant tribal and feudal violence (including ceremonial cannibalism). Men were fortunate to reach middle age, as many Fijians were brutally killed in war or opportunistically murdered. Consequently, handheld weapons were essential companions at all times, whether in the home, while traveling, or when working in the fields.
In addition to spears and daggers, clubs were important fighting tools on Fiji, and they were produced with exceptional quality from local hardwoods in diverse profiles and dimensions. The culacula, for example, resembled a vicious combat paddle, with a broad wooden blade on a long haft. This spatulate club, more than three feet from butt to tip, was designed to split flesh and break big bones. By contrast, the I-ula tavatava, a much shorter weapon, featured a slender, balanced handle that flared into a bulbous shape rather like a head of garlic; it was designed to be thrown from a distance and from close range could deliver a killing blow to the skull. Pictured here is the totokia, a brutal battle hammer often called the “pineapple club” because of the spiked ball behind its beak. Such was the quality of these and other Fijian war clubs, especially the highly decorative ceremonial types, that they became desirable among collectors of ethnographic weapons and tribal artifacts. MHQ
CHRIS McNAB is a military historian based in the United Kingdom. His most recent book is The Mighty 8th at War: The Missions, The Aircraft—The Full Story Told By the Men Who Were There (Metro Books, 2017).
This article appears in the Spring 2018 issue (Vol. 30, No. 3) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Fiji War Club
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