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The Art Of War - Pacific Style

16303.jpgThe Waikato Museum collection contains an array of Pacific weaponry gruesome enough to strike fear into anyone's heart, writes Crystal Ardern.

The island nations of the Pacific are lauded for their stunning beauty, the landscape, the culture, the people.

It's not often you associate them with gruesome battles and fierce weapons. But delve into the ethnology collection at the Waikato Museum and you'll find a host of Pacific weaponry, fashioned from wood, stone, bone, teeth, spikes and claws, and capable of inflicting some serious injury. A "Killing Axe" from Papua New Guinea is one such object.

It was donated to the museum by Jessie Waugh in 1974, who had collected the axe and other artefacts while serving as an aid to a missionary of the Apostolic Church. She noted that all of the objects she donated were from the Winga Village in the Mt Hagen region. The axe resembles more of a pick to Western eyes, and is made from wood and the claw of a maruk bird. A maruk is a large emu-type bird, a capable killer that is highly prized in New Guinea for its sharp beak and claws. A maruk claw has been bound to the spike of this axe, and is used to pierce the skull. A quick clock to the back of the head with this baby and you wouldn't be around much longer!

Bows and arrows from Papua New Guinea are also in the collection, and have all been beautifully woven, crafted and decorated from a mixture of bamboo, pandanus, wood, cane rattan and ochre dye.

Spike-tipped arrows and pronged spears from the Solomon Islands are fascinating pieces. Echidna spines have been added to the ends of the arrows in order to inflict pain, as if the sharp arrowhead wasn't enough! Spears from Papua New Guinea also feature echidna spines, and are carefully decorated and designed, one is even interlocking.

The knuckle-dusters or fighting pads in the collection from Kiribati are a particularly nasty number. Known as a clawing weapon, the knuckle-dusters are studded with shark's teeth and can cause painful injury, as attackers use a "hit and drag" method of dragging the teeth along the flesh in combat.
The face was often a target, as was the soft tissue around the stomach.

The people of Kiribati seem to be fond of shark's teeth, as they are also responsible for the "te rere" or fighting sword. About the size of a knife, it appears fragile but is capable of inflicting serious injury. As the attacker raises the te rere, the defendant instinctively raises his arm in protection. The attacker then has access to slash the soft underarm. A larger te rere would have more mature shark's teeth and is capable of cutting to the bone.

Patu, clubs and spears from Polynesia all feature in the collection.

A spear from Samoa, believed to be ceremonial has been carefully carved with symmetrical barbs. Made of ironbark, this short spear (1.2m) was donated to the museum in 1968 by another missionary, Sister M C Roberts who served in the Pacific Islands for many years.

These weapons all seem brutal, yet curiously, it appears that even in Pacific battle we find Pacific beauty. The fine craftsmanship and attention to detail make these weapons that span Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia truly ornate and elaborate objects, that reflect the beauty of their homes and makers.

* Crystal Ardern is the museum's concept leader, social history.