Today, when you leave your home most people perform the daily ritual of checking that you have the essentials, a wallet, or purse to hold your monies and cards, enabling you to barter in the 21st century, home and car keys, a watch not only to tell the time but how many footsteps you take in an hour and the number one on the list, your mobile phone the device that has become so integral in the fabric of our lives and social interactions, it is hard to prise from some peoples tight grip, these items are the day to day companions we all use and need. Up until and in the few decades followings Fiji’s willing cessation to the United Kingdom in 1874, these handheld companions would have taken the form of a traditional weapon.
The weapon of choice was the War club, although they did have spears and daggers at the time, clubs were held as ferocious and vitally important weapons within a Fijian society (Bowers Museum, 2017), and no respectful man would have left their home, start working in the fields nurturing their crops, or traveling to the next village without one or two worn stuck in the girdle, sometimes in pairs like European pistols. In the 19th Century alone it is estimated that over 100,000 clubs may have been made in Fiji. (Bowers Museum, 2018). ‘Each war club was suited to his physique, rank and personal taste’ (R.A.Derrick, 1957), of the warrior.
The Fijian Club has three main parts, the Shaft, which is the area of the club the warrior gripped onto with his hands, the inner and outer carved faces/edges of the head of the club, and the Distal End, the area that merges into the head from the grip, this was a place where the number of kills was tallied by ‘nicking or nortching’ this area, also there were accounts of warriors embedding the human tooth of the fallen on the head of the club, having a two-fold sociological effect, one increasing the damage inflicted on the opponent upon impact, and then, more importantly, the symbolic presence of the warrior, the greater the number of kills the better known and greater the presence he held. The war club themselves grow and grow more significant over time, with the more kills and history associated with the particular weapon, the more symbolic the individual club became, some took on a spiritual realm to themselves and later used them as ceremonial clubs.
“Warfare was part of everyday life on the islands whereby the early 1800s chaos reigned with local feuding and increasingly bloody civil wars becoming commonplace,” Villages were fortified with palisades and ditches to help protect them from surprise attacks. Given the importance of weapons and other wood carvings, Fijian carvers were highly trained and specialized and were healded within the villages.
The Fijians used two main types of Clubs, long clubs for close combat, and Ula; a projectile weapon made to be thrown. The Ula was generally held by a warrior in a full-fisted grip with all four fingers and thumb firmly grasping the lower part of the shaft and was hurled end over end in flight striking a heavy and formidable blow to the head. There are no gentlemanly pistols at dawn during this time, Ambushing was commonplace, and some of the fissures in the head of the wood were filled with lead, greatly increasing the weapon’s weight and damage inflicted on the unfortunate foe.
The clubs were made generally carved from the rootstalk of the young ironwood tree, a strong dense wood commonly found across Fiji at the time. Depending on the type of club being made, the tree would be pulled from the earth, and the primary root would be used to form the head of the Club. Additionally, clubs were made by splitting a tree and cutting from the heartwood and hand forming a balanced and precise club. Ceremonial Clubs had carving and intricate patterns engraved upon them, with Sennit a type of cordage made by plaiting strands of dried fiber or grass. The Fijian term used is Magimagi meaning a fibrous product made from coconut husk.