Friday, 10 August 2012

Maori Hand Weapons

These five Maori hand weapons are part of the collection donated by Joseph Banks to Christ Church, his old Oxford college. This first voyage collection has only recently been identified by Jeremy Coote, Curator and Joint Head of Collections at the Pitt Rivers.  There are thirty objects in total, thirteen of which are from New Zealand.

Maori scholar Ngahuia Te Awekotuku writes in 'Maori Art and Culture' (Ed. D.C.Starzeca, British Museum Press, 1996) that 'short clubs were grasped in either hand and struck, jabbed and sliced in swift dance-like motions…Weapons were regarded as precious heirlooms, passed from one generation to the next.  They were coveted battlefield trophies…Being intimately associated with the god of war and the shedding of blood, they were highly tapu and were concealed when not in use; possession of such a treasure was a weighty responsibility.'

The five cleavers in the Banks collection represent five of the main types of Maori hand weapon.  There are three of wood, one of whalebone and one of stone.


1887.1.388 - A simple cleaver, or patu, in wood, with a perforation for a strap near the grip.


1887.1.389 Detail

1887.1.389 - A kotiate, or 'fiddle' shaped cleaver.  The blade has notches on either side, which were used in a ripping action - the word kotiate literally means 'to divide, split in two.'  There is a face carved at the end of the grip, although the shell eyes have been lost.

1887.1.393 Detail

1887.1.393 - A wahaika - this can be translated as 'the mouth of the fish'.  These cleavers are often referred to as 'crescent-shaped'.

Wooden clubs were made from hardwoods, such as maire (Nestegis cunninghami), manuka (Leptospermum scoparium), kauri (Agathis australis) and akeake (Dodona viscosa).  Positive identification of wood usually requires a fairly large sample to be taken and this is not considered to be acceptable for these taonga (treasures).

1887.1.387 - A whalebone cleaver (patu paroa).  This is made of dense bone, probably from the jaw of a sperm whale.


1887.1.714 - A basalt cleaver (patu onewa).  This heavy patu has an incomplete perforation for a strap.  Holes have been drilled from either side to meet in the middle.  The stone for the patu would have been hammer dressed, pecked and finally ground and polished using varying grades of sandstone until the finish was perfectly smooth.