I Ula Tavatava, Fiji


Fiji, 19th century ex. Private-Collection M. Thieme

Materials: Wood (Casuarina Equisetifolia)

Status: Available



The warriors of Fiji were often equipped with clubs while traveling to defend against enemy attacks, but they had an interesting side arm, mostly two or three throwing clubs carried in their clothing. These clubs are called ‘Ula‘ and vary in decoration and shape. Made from a tree root, mostly Casuarina Equisetifolia, a¬†local Fijian tree which was put in place at the earliest stage of growth to influence the final shape before it was turned into a club. The ‘Ula‘ can be distinguished in three forms, the plain knobbed type, the lobbed type and the fine gadrooned type which is listed here. Warclubs from Fiji are locally considered sacred and it is believed to possess ancestral powers.
I Ula Tavatava, Fiji - 19th century

The subtile and elegant carved head of the club is clearly made with care. While the fine lobbed decoration is decorative, it serves a practical purpose as well. Ribbed blunt force tends to leave severe damage on bones and joints while being thrown with high speed.
The handle is decorated with a so called ‘Tavatava’¬†carving which is likely done with metal hence the quite sharp, yet worn edges on the carving. This leads us to post-contact period, but the very old and smooth patina combined with the worn elements points us to the 19th century and actually made for combat purpose yet then later examples which are mainly associated with dancing rituals.
I Ula Tavatava, Fiji - 19th century

The word ‘Tavatava‘ is from unknown origin, regarding several old journeys and studies is could be derived from a woman’s name who’s betrayal was of significant importance in old Fijian believe, while it could also be referred to a certain type of Fish known in Samoan language. However, it is associated with the typical carved decoration we see on these clubs.

Condition: Excellent, a very fine patina and elegant shape.

– Ex private collection Michel Thieme Amsterdam
– Ex Dutch private collection

Length: 42cm
Knob width: 9cm
I Ula Tavatava, Fiji - 19th century I Ula Tavatava, Fiji - 19th century I Ula Tavatava, Fiji - 19th century

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