Paddle, Austral Islands
length 43 7/8in (111.5cm)
Old Maritime Museum, New England (museum number "E26438" written in red on top of the handle)
According to Richards (2012, pp 141 - 145), "Though widely called 'paddles,' these objects are not functional paddles. They are 'paddle shaped,' but their sizes are too extreme; their shafts are too weak, and they are thoroughly unsuitable for use as paddles. Consequently it has been assumed that they were emblems of rank or status, for ceremonial rather than functional use. But an exhaustive survey of the historical sources, has confirmed that there are no known eye-witness account of their use or function. No local name is recorded for them, anywhere, before 1890, though since they are sometimes called 'hoe' after the Tahitian word for paddle...
...There are good grounds for asserting however that few if any 'paddles' were made and exported after 1842. Firstly, the population decline was extreme, particularly among the adults, and dead men made no paddles. By 1840 the total population on Tabuai had fallen to 250 and on Raivave to 360...Actual carvers would have been even fewer...
...Moreover, after the French took over Tahiti in 1842, trade visits to the Austral Islands declined."