Important and Rare Pole Club, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Carved from the heart (taiki) of the ironwood (toa) tree (Casuarina equisetifolia)
height 8ft 4 7/8in (256.3cm)
James Hooper, no. 614
Christie's, London, July 4, 1990, lot 255
Private American Collection
Phelps, Steven, "Art and Artifacts of the Pacific, Africa and the Americas; The James Hooper Collection", Hutchinson & Co., London, 1975, plate 78, no. 614.
This exceptionally fine stone-carved pole club displays a rarely seen double-scalloped 'blade' design, a collar with eight "eye" motifs and three chevron grooves on both sides of the butt; beautifully and smoothly finished with a dark-brown/black glossy patina.
These magnificent pole-clubs were great prestige objects containing the mana (spiritual power) of their creators and of their owners. According to Steven Hooper (2006: p. 222), they "have long been attributed to Rarotonga, but evidence for this assumption is hard to find. Formal analysis and an eye-witness account suggest that these were originally made on Atiu, though they may have found their way to Rarotonga and elsewhere. A number of them (Oldman 2004: pl.31, no. 445c; Phelps 1976: pls 77-8, nos 606; Buck 1944; fig. 179r-s) have collar designs as small figures of the central Cook Islands kind, and where they have 'eye' designs [as in the example presented here] they are of eye and lids, with no additional brow line, which is characteristic of Rarotonga. Others have a fine tip which is carved in exactly the same way as the tips of fan handles of central Cooks origin. When Anderson was there [Atiu] in 1777 during Cook's third voyage, he noted: 'The clubs were about six feet long or more, made of a hard black wood launce shap'd at the end but much broader, with the edge nicely scallop'd and the whole neatly polish'd'(Beaglehole 1967: 841)."
Nowhere in the world did the making of weapons reach higher aesthetic refinement than in the islands of Polynesia before the coming of Christianity. On the Cook Islands, and in Polynesia in general, of the different forms of clubs used, the 'akatara is universally accepted as one of, if not the most elegant.