Spear, shaft of black palm wood and head comprising several hundred barbs cut from human long bones. There were originally three large points at the head although only two now remain. The bone barbs are secured with an extensive and complicated lashing of coconut fibre cordage which is further decorated below the lowest barb with wrappings of vegetable fibre.
Bone-Barbed Throwing Spear, Santo island, Vanuatu, Eastern Melanesia Spears were manufactured in a number of different forms in Vanuatu, specific to particular islands and particular purposes. This kind is one of the most famous, and had its origin on the large island of Santo. Spears for warfare were never used for hunting or fishing in Vanuatu. This is a war-javelin, thrown from the hand, or propelled with a spear-thrower. Like other Santo spears, it has a shaft of bamboo, making it top-heavy, which helped its flight. The multitude of bone barbs are cut from human leg-bones and arm-bones, bound into the shaft with a complex lashing of extremely strong bark-fibre string. In most parts of the Pacific, human bones used as a tool-making material generally came from detested enemies, and this act was viewed as a suitable post-mortem humiliation for the enemy. On Santo, however, precisely the opposite was the case. These bones belonged to the original owner’s older male relatives, and of those men, only ones who had achieved a high rank in the sukwe grade-rank system that prevailed throughout Vanuatu. In this way, these points were guaranteed to be strong with mana (supernatural effectiveness). Bamboo, bone, vegetable fibre. Late 19th Century. Provenance unknown.