Friday, 15 June 2012

Two Incising Tools

The first of two incising tools collected in Tonga is listed in the Appendix of the 'Catalogue of Curiosities' as No.174 'Shark's tooth set in wood, from the Friendly Isles.'


The tooth is tightly bound to the wooden handle with plaited coconut fibre, and used to carve fine designs into clubs, such as those mentioned in an earlier post, and other wooden objects.

1886.1.1321 Detail showing shark tooth

The second tool is interesting because it has an iron nail as the point, which must have had a European source.  It is listed in the 'Catalogue' as No.101a 'An old nail brought to the Friendly Isles by Tasman in 1642 and preserved by the natives, & used as a Googe or borer.'


Cook was so interested in this nail that he wrote in his Journal in the entry for Thursday 7 October 1773 'the only piece of Iron we saw among them was a small tool like a bradawl and which had been made of a small nail.'

1886.1.1320 - The iron nail used as a point can be clearly seen

It was generally thought that the nail did indeed come from Tasman, who was one of the first westerners to visit Tonga.  However, on the third voyage, when again in Tonga in July 1777 Cook asked the T'ui Tonga Fatafehi Paulaho about the nail: 'he told me it came from Onnuahtabutabu (Niuatoputapu), and on asking him how the people of that island came by it, he said that one of them sold a Club for five Nails to a Ship which came to the island, and that these five nails after wards came to Tongatapu and were the first they had seen, so that the Iron they got from Captain Tasman must have been worn out and forgot long ago.'

Whatever the origin of the nail, with its bone handle the tool was a high-status object, to be used by someone of high rank.  It has been suggested that the holes in the handle of the other tool, 1886.1.1321, were made with the iron nail - it fits the holes perfectly.

Holes bored in the handle of 1886.1.1321

See: Kaeppler, A.L. 'Eighteenth Century Tonga: New Interpretations of Tongan Society and Material Culture at the Time of Captain Cook' Man, New Series, Vol. 6, No.2 (Jun 1971), pp 204-220

Coote, J. Entry nos 347 and 348 in the catalogue 'James Cook and the Exploration of the Pacific', Thames and Hudson 2009.