Fine Ceremonial Paddle, Austral Islands
length 42 5/8in (108.5cm)
Collected on a French voyage in 1839 (sold with a copy of the double page manuscript with sketches of crew members, a boat and various notes)
Private Collection, France
According to Richards (2012: p. 141), '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.'
Richards continues (p. 145), '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 Tubuai had fallen to 250 and on Raivavae to 360. If half were children, and half the adult were female, then the pool of adult men who could have been potential carvers, was about 90 and 60 for the two islands respectively. Actual carvers would have been even fewer, particularly if as previously, carvers had been a select group. However, according the mission records, by then most of these men would have been Christians, whose devout moral advisers actively discouraged traditional arts.'
The "paddle" presented here is finely decorated around the pommel with representative carved human faces and overall on the shaft with zigzag patterns and the male motif 'XX' design.