Spear, Austral Islands
Wood, vegetable fiber
length 9ft 10 1/2in (306cm)
Sotheby's, London, Lot 58, June 24, 1992
Private American Collection
This finely carved weapon, probably from Rurutu Island, has a flat blade with a delicate raised mid-line, a double collar engraved with chevron motifs and protected at the butt with applied vegetable fiber; fine, varied dark-brown patina.
According to William Ellis in Polynesian Researches During a Residence of Nearly Eight Years in the Society and Sandwich islands, (1832, p. 296), "In times of war, all capable of bearing arms were called upon to join the forces of the chieftain to whom they belonged, and the farmers, who held their land partly by feudal tenure, were obliged to render military service whenever their landlord required it. There were, besides these, a number of men celebrated for their valour, strength, or address in war, who were called aito, fighting-men or warriors. This title, the result of achievements in battle, was highly respected, and proportionably sought by the daring and ambitions. It was not, like the chieftainship and other prevailing distinctions, confined to any class, but open to all; and many from the lower ranks have risen, as warriors, to a high station in the community.
Originally their weapons were simple, and formed of wood; they consisted of the spear, which the natives called patia or tao, made with the wood of the cocoa-nut tree, or of the aito, iron-wood, or casuarina. It was twelve or eighteen feet long, and about an inch or an inch and a half in diameter at the middle or the lower end, but tapering off to a point at the other. The spears of the inhabitants of Rurutu, and other of the Austral Islands, are remarkable for their great length and elegant shape, as well as for the high polish with which they are finished."