Moungalaulau War Club
Height : 38 ½ in. (97.5 cm)
18th or early 19th century
Ex private collection, Australia
Ex collection Maureen Zarember, New York
Exhibited : “Warriors”, Tambaran Gallery, New York, 2014
War clubs conferred prestige on their owners and were proof of their status as warriors. War clubs – the most precious possessions of warriors – evidenced exceptional sophistication and refinement in their sculpture and ornamentation.
War clubs are imbued with mana, the sacred power of the Polynesians. The surface decoration, unique to each club, granted supernatural powers to its owner. In recognition of these qualities, a warrior would typically give his club a specific name.
The most common material for Polynesian war clubs was ironwood (toa or ‘aito in Polynesian languages), a dense hard wood that could deliver powerful blows to the enemy without cracking and was unlikely to break at the shaft under the stress of fighting.
Before European contact, stone adzes and animal teeth were used to carve and decorate clubs and ceremonial paddles. After Captain James Cook’s Voyages and subsequent contacts with Western navigators starting in the late 18th century, nails and iron implements began replacing traditional tools. Thus, surface decoration became increasingly more extensive and elaborate.