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Ula Fijian War Club – Ethnographic Oceanic Throwing Club

Gallery Price: £2,500

A fine substantial Ula Fijian War Club, Ula Tavatava, with its distinctive carved head and pommel, shell carved handle. Retaining the remains of its original woven cord.
Fiji, early 19th Century

Length 42cm / 16 1/2in
Diameter of head 10cm
Weight 675 grams

 

 

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Ula Fijian War Club - Ethnographic Oceanic Throwing Club

Ula Fijian War Club, I Ula Tavatava, Ironwood, Fiji, Western Polynesia

How were they used?

For something so elaborate and carefully crafted, it seems hard to believe that Ula’s like this one were randomly thrown high, hopeful of hitting the enemy. Especially having invested significant time to make, only for the enemy to pick up and lob back.

However, one proposal is that the approach was to throw multiple war clubs high so they rained down on the enemy. This combined with an attack with other flying missiles. Causing injury and damage making way for the second wave of brutal fighting.

Hand to hand fighting with spears and clubs. Being such a handy size and carefully balanced weapon, the ula had a dual purpose of finishing the attack, bludgeoning the enemy with decisive killing blows.

I’m not so sure

Given the general condition of the Ula clubs on the market, the throw them high approach seems somewhat unlikely and a bit random. I don’t see any collectors wishing to test this on their own ula collection.

While many collectors would wish for raining ula’s, a weapon with such a heavy head could also be thrown with power and precision at the enemy causing significant injury and disorientation. Following up with the remaining handheld clubs to finish the attack. I have no doubt that this club as a missile could inflict terrible damage, the length of the shaft amplifying the energy of the throw.

As several were carried, the spares would replace one if it were thrown, dropped or lost, after all, you’d want the job done. Day to day they were carried as a symbol of power rather than actually needing to be used.

Larger than most

This Ula Fijian war club weighs in at 675 grams and is certainly on the larger side of most Ula’s. The head is very well carved and the graduated tapering neck is well proportioned and balanced; it is rather thicker than most. The handle is carved with a zigzag pattern cut with sharp shell edges and with medial dividing lines and a concave tip.

Material:

Ironwood – a very dense and heavy Fijian wood.

Museum Examples:

The British Museum has a Ula Fijian War Club by the same name as this one – Ula Tavatava – it is made of a lighter wood and carved in a more open manner, it was acquired in 1844. Oc1844,0725.10.

The Horniman Museum has a collection of several Oceanic throwing clubs, including a dark wood Ula Kobo club with pronounced reeded head and banded pommel.  Ref NN16466  Another more closely related example Ref NN1.25 from the mid 19th century has some stylistic differences and notably a less perfect curved stem, it is somewhat cruder than the present example which is perfectly straight.

Conclusion:

The prestige of this club is elevated with the scale and quality of the carving. Furthermore, the patina is untouched and original and its woven cord remains intact. The balance is exceptional and would have been among the prized possessions of an important tribal leader revealing his status and prestige.

Links:

A collection of Maori Josiah Martin Photographs

Horniman Museum

Royal Collection example