club (weapons: bludgeon)

Tapering sword club, from Niue Island, the blade of which becomes concave above the widest point. The handle terminates in a long conical finial and the shaft is bound with coconut fibre cordage and a finer cordage made of black human hair. Some greenish yellow feathers are bound in to the handle near the middle.

Sword-Club, Katoua, Niue, Western Polynesia. The small Western Polynesian island of Niue is almost equidistant between Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands. Like these neighbouring groups, the culture of military excellence was highly developed in Niue, and warriors (toa) were adept in the use of a complex range of club and spear forms. The overall form of this katoua sword-club is similar to other sword-club and paddle-club forms to be found in Western and Central Polynesia, but the concave edges closing to the katoua’s squared-off point are uniquely Niuean. The katoua was a formidable hardwood blade, and reliable historical accounts show that it was capable of cleaving a man’s head in two halves. This said, we can see from its ornamental attachments of coconut fibre and human hair cordage, and greenish-yellow feathers, that it was intended in part for display, and the attendants of Niuean chiefs carried such weapons as state regalia. Although many aspects of Niuean culture can be seen as similar to one or another of its neighbours, we have to look as far away as Kiribati in eastern Micronesia to find a parallel to one particular cultural feature: the Niueans traditionally practiced highly formalised duelling that was strictly non-contact. Men armed with katoua and spears took turns to charge each other, turning away at the last moment to avoid landing a wounding blow. These duels were an elaborate form of male dance, and often formed the centrepiece of large public festivals on the island. Wood, feather, coconut fibre. Late 19th Century. Formerly in the private collection of Mr. H. Murray Leveson of Chelsea.


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