Notes on the Wooden Clubs of the New Caledonian Archipelago Notes on the Wooden Clubs of the New Caledonian Archipelago 27 July 1921, ParisM.J. Soulingeas At the dawn of humanity, which is to say in prehistoric times, man needed to fashion weapons of wood and stone to defend himself against his peers as well as against the large animals that inhabited the earth at the time. These weapons were very rudimentary at first, but over time and with the passage of centuries, they came to be better made. Men began to give them certain shapes and to embellish them and these first finished wooden clubs certainly existed in the Neolithic era. They were still used until recently by the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Oceanic islands. My long stays as a junior officer at various posts in the New Caledonian archipelago, some thirty-six years ago, at a time when the people’s mores and habits remained as primitive as they were in 1853, enabled me to take notes not only concerning their customs, but to learn about their weapons, and especially their wooden clubs, as well. I will discuss these clubs here briefly in the hopes that my observations will be useful from an ethnographic point of view, as well as for comparative and documentary purposes. Unlike many other Oceanic archipelagos, and specifically that of the New Hebrides, where each island has its own specific types of clubs, often of very varied shapes, New Caledonian types have typical forms that vary little from the northern end of the archipelago to its southern tip. All of these weapons bear an emblem of masculinity – they are phallic representations, or else representations of the beak of a local male bird. “He who gives life, gives death when he fights” say the New Caledonians. These weapons are made of various kinds of wood, including ironwood (Casuarina nodosa), the wood of the giant Houp tree (Montrouziera cauliflora – a nearly indestructible variety), black gaiac, red oak, and ebony among others. Parrying and ceremonial weapons, of which there are many kinds, are made of sandalwood or white ebony. The older Kanaks work these woods when they are still green, while the children (piquinini) watch them. When they are finished manufacturing a club, after a fairly long time and using the most rudimentary tools (glass shards, rock crystals, sharpened shell knives), they put it into a river for several weeks both to leach out the sap and to help solidify the wood and its fibers. Since time is happily not money among the Kanaks, they take their time and take pleasure in working carefully. When a club is removed from the water and dried after the appropriate amount of time has elapsed, it is rubbed with very fine sand to eliminate any rough spots in the wood and to polish it. It is then varnished with a mixture of wax and a juice obtained from the leaves of the Niaouli tree (Melaleuca veridiflora), and again further patinated through handling. Until he is about thirteen years old, a Kanak youth only has a model of a club (objects A & B in Fig. 1). After going through the ceremony that entitles him to wear the manou garment, he receives an ordinary club (objects C through G in Fig. 1). He will later switch weapons in accordance with his age and the bravery he displays in combat. If he has shown great prowess as a fighter, he will be armed with a bird-head club (objects Q through V in Fig. 3), a weapon which only tested warriors may carry. The Kanak man will never allow himself to be separated from his club except if it is in order to arm himself with a spear. When that happens, he will wear a small loop of cordage or a strap called ten on the index finger of his right hand, which he can use as a thrower that will make his spear fly further and penetrate more effectively. He wears this loop, which is essentially a slingshot, in his hair and it is consequently with him at all times. He takes meticulous care of his club. He covers its handle with beaten banyan tree bark tied on with cordage made of braided coconut fiber, wraps its central portion with fern leaves that are secured with a cord made of the fur of a large fruit bat and completes the decoration of his club with the addition of small pieces of white shell (Ovula carnea). While the man is armed with a beautiful phallus-shaped club and decorates his residence with a fine well-sculpted and painted tabou, the woman on the other hand has only a branch on hers, and has a club that is undecorated and made from a portion of the tree’s stump. I do believe this is symbolic – she is seen as the source and root of the generation. When a Kanak voluntarily leaves his tribe or his native island and exiles himself, he leaves his weapons behind, or even destroys them, because he does not want them to fall into the hands of others that might use them against his own people. If he returns at a later date, he will arm himself again. I have added some drawings of various types of clubs with some explanation (see objects A through Z): A, B: children’s clubs. C through H: ordinary clubs. The above are called toparé. The heads are phallic – for adults. X, Y: women’s clubs – goué. Z: weapon for sacrifice – n’goué. W: throwing club, from Maré Island. The natives of New Caledonia also had small throwing clubs fashioned from the femurs and tibias of their enemies, whose lower portions they broke off. These weapons are exceeding rare. I only saw them twice, and both examples were in the hands of missionaries. Objects Q through V in Fig. 3 are known as bird-head (or bird-beak) clubs. The Q club belonged to Atai, the leader of the 1878 insurrection, and we can thus be sure that it came from the central part of the island’s west coast. Club T is from the Belep Islands. Its shape is different and so is the placement the eye. Club R is from somewhere on the northeast coast as far up as Canala. Club S is from somewhere on the island south of Nouméa. Club V is from the Loyalty Islands – these are the best made and most beautiful examples, along with those from Kounié and the Isle of Pines, where they are called ennoun. These clubs are shaped like the head of a male bird, with its beak and crest, and represent the head of the notou or goliath Imperial pigeon (Ducula goliath), of the kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus), or of the Apteryx species, which are all still found on the Isle of Pines. Mushroom head clubs I through N on Fig. 2 are called mémié and may have dotted or slanted line decorations (where one row of lines runs in the opposite direction of the next, as in example I) that cover a length of about 3 or 4 centimeters. Clubs I through M are from the island’s north and northeast; J, K, and L are from the central area; M and N are from the north and west; K and N are from the central southern area; F is from the Loyalty Islands, and O is from the Isle of Pines (Cané Cané). The simple rule is that the further south one goes starting from the island’s northern extremity, the longer the bird beaks on the clubs get, and that is also true of the beaks of the actual birds they are modeled after. There are also ceremonial or parrying clubs made of yellow wood (sandalwood) and of white wood (white oak). These weapons are always kept very clean and attractive. They have no patina as the wood they are made of is frequently rubbed with sand.