William Churchill.

Club types of nuclear Polynesia online

. (page 16 of 21)
Online LibraryWilliam ChurchillClub types of nuclear Polynesia → online text (page 16 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the frequent occurrence of writing materials now, that method still
remains uncommon.

The use of the dot or fine point in this incised decoration is notably
rare. In figures 36 and 40 we may see how the dot may arise as a
degradation product of the fine line of basketry. But the true dot,
employed as a decorative unit in itself, involves much labor in this
style of ornament; if the pattern were traced by the incisions nothing
would be easier than to make a dot, but here, in the essential condition
of three dimensions, each dot is the point of a cone which must be cut
down so as to leave the tip clear upon the surface of the piece. Dots
of this type occur on but two clubs— in figure 27 centrally situated in
each lozenge of the diapered panel, in figure 41 similarly placed in the
exterior dentelles of the zigzags and twice in the interior dentelle. I
can neither recall nor discover any word in the languages of Nuclear
Polynesia for this ornament; for an incised or punctured dot the people
employ togitogi made nominal from the verb togi, which describes the
action of a bird in pecking with the bill, but I am by no means sure that
any of them has advanced to the point of recognizing in such a point
upon the surface a picture of the mark of a peck which goes below the
surface, for the crux hes in the recognition of the pictorial method.

The triangle as a detail of basketry skeuomorph is extremely com-
mon on these clubs. We present of one type the triangular panel in
figures II and 37 and the triangular subdivision of the rectangular



134 CLUB TYPES OF NUCLEAR POLYNESIA.

panel, simple in figures i8, 39, and 48, compound in figure 12. Tri-
angles which result as an end-product of other design are recognizable
in some few instances; thus in figure 26 mention has already been
made of the artist's objection to the lozenge and his correction thereof
by a carefully scored Hne ; the result is a series of triangles in all save
one of his lozenges, where his tool failed to bite; triangles as an end-
product of the coconut-leaf design have been pointed out in connection
with the brilhant example in figure 17, in which a triangle represents
each wing of the pattern; in figure 92 the coconut-leaf end- triangle
is found single and combining both wings; in figure 16 this finial
triangle has become the important element and the merest suggestion
of the coconut-leaf is discoverable, and even that supported by sub-
sidiary triangles which have lost all of the motive. In figure 4 note
has been made of the possibihty that the three triangles may represent
merely a transitional stage in the carving of the basic zigzag, yet it
is quite clear that the triangle was a satisfactory ornament in the
interruption of the general design. At last a group of designs is
reached in which the triangle is carved for its own beauty of form,
and is recognized as an agreeable unit of ornament. The simplest
instance is in the series of small triangles in figure 22, each triangle
independent of its neighbor and all in the same apical direction, of
which the drawing gives two opposed instances. This is of the type
of serration which has already been examined ; it differs in the essential
element of the base-bar which characterizes the serration unit. The
very carefully elaborated Samoan mushroom club (Plate I g) gives
an excellent instance of triangle decoration in figure 42. As can be
seen upon the general view, each wing of the head is treated with two
longitudinal rows of triangles. The inner series is set staggered along
a common base-Hne, with the free apices pointing in alternation inward
and outward, and these triangles are simple. The outer series con-
sists of two rows engaged; the inner row pointing outward is simple,
the outer row pointing inward is compound. The artist's scheme of
composition of the latter triangles calls for a convention of 5 rows of
subsidiary triangles with an increment of i in each row to 5 at the
base. In the five triangles in this rubbing, the first not having been
rubbed entire and the matter not of suflficient moment to call for a com-
plete collation of the whole club, it is observed that the upmost triangle
is obscured in the apex of the composite; the series are 1-2-3-3,
1-3-3-4-4, 1-2-2-3-3, 1-2-3-3-4, and 1-2-3-4-4, the general effect
being produced by increasing the size rather than rigidly numerically.
In the same club still another triangle design occurs which combines
the use of surface and line to develop the pattern. There are two
lines of compound triangles engaged; in the upper hne each triangle
consists of a relatively broad line on each of the engaging faces and a
much thinner line along the outward base, and each carries an interior



ADDITIONS AND ORNAMENT. I35

triangle if we consider the design represented by surface, or one and
two excavated triangles if the design be regarded as incised; in the
lower line the composites differ in having the subsidiary surface tri-
angle double, producing in the excavation the series 1-3. In figure 31
is found a triangle variant in which the ornament is clearly produced
by the incision, three associated triangles, of which two approximated
have a common base direction, the third presents its apex slightly
between the apices of the pair with its base outward, a most effective
composition. Figure 97 is from one of the two triangle inlays on
bosses of the club illustrated in Plate VII a.

The carved basketry skeuomorphs on these clubs show little variety.
In general, each element of the web is pictured by straight lines, the
material being a long leaf, and the fact that such a leaf produces the
effect of parallelism of right lines is clearly apparent on the club illus-
trated in Plate VII h, where such a leaf is seen tied about the shaft.
There are but tv/o groups of the basketry. The former is rectangular
without septa in figure 35, with septa in figures 36 and 37. The other
is a picture of diagonal weaving, in its simple type and without septa
in figure 38, composite and with septa in figures 39 and 40, which
represent different directions of the diagonal member.

No inconsiderable time has been spent in the measurement of the
clubs of this collection ; the record is crowded with detail of length and
girth and grip. In this mensuration there is acquired a mental picture
of the amount of the incised surface, roughly 150 square feet, minutely
covered with incisions in which the units rarely amount to a quarter
of an inch. This is the floorage of a small room. In the preceding
pages we have considered the distinctive types of this art of the
savages, some of the types enormously repeated. Now we take up
in comparison the decoration employing curved Hnes. In 15 figures
(43 to 57), and one of these to be rejected as an erratic of Maori
provenience, we are not deaUng with types selected as representative
of great spaces, but with the individual instances of curvihnear orna-
ment. Two of these are the ornament of shaft ends in which the circle
is set by the form of the piece. If one will take a measure and set
upon the floorage a space just i foot in length and a single inch in
width, he will find before him as nearly as possible the sum of all the
curvilinear decoration and its relation to the rectihnear ornament.

There lurks here a most interesting problem in the evolution of
design. It may not now be possible to solve the problem, yet it is some-
thing accompHshed merely to be able to state it. So far as we are
justified in drawing a conclusion from this material it is this : Nuclear
Polynesia has attained to a very satisfactory stage of development
in the employment of right Hnes and combinations of right hnes for
decoration; it is scarcely at the beginning of the employment of any



136 CLUB TYPES OF NUCLEAR POLYNESIA.

of the curves. This apphes to this particular method and material, to
engraving, to glyptic processes in the flat.

It is not that the Fijians, the Tongans, and the Samoans do not
know and employ curved lines in other material and in other methods.
In their wea\dng and basketry they have not reached the device of
employing stepped forms to suggest the curve ; their decoration in this
method remains right-hne and angular. The same is true of their
ornament with sennit ; a high degree of angular ornament characterizes
their great bales of this substance. In their siapos they employ the
curve in many ways, both in the ground-pattern obtained by rubbing
the bast material over a pattern board in which the device is expressed
by cloisons, and in free-hand drawing with a pandanus nutlet frayed
to a pencil for the apphcation of liquid pigments. But in two of their
arts — and in method these two have much in common — in tattooing
and in wood engraving, the work is almost wholly rectilinear. True,
the tattooing upon the thighs produces the effect in one detail of a
finely sweeping curve, but it is shortly seen to be a straight line in
itself and to get its curvature from the shape of the leg, just as in
figure 58 it is manifest that the vine unit is in a right line and the fine
curve effect upon the club derives from the cyHndrical surface upon
which it is drawn in a spiral.

This refraining from curved lines upon the clubs applies only to the
ornament upon the flat or cylinder ; in space of three dimensions these
clubs exhibit remarkable grace in the employment of curves (Plates I
to III). It can not be a difficulty inherent in the material and the cut-
ting-tool, for the very clubs which yield so grudgingly less than one-
twelfth part of a square foot of curvilinear decoration carry at least 80
designs in which curves are freely used in depicting men and other
animals and in one case leaves. The burin is a shark- tooth; the
method is that of pecking and slicing; the durability of each tooth is
brief; rarely does the enamel sm-face hold up beyond three or four
cuts; but life in the tropical islands is full of shark- teeth. The texture
of the wood does not condition greater ease along the straight line;
there is no grain to consider; it is as dense as boxwood and may be
carved with the same readiness in every direction. It seems to be
clear that the use of cin-ves upon the flat surface, two-dimensional orna-
ment, is just coming into the favor of the island engravers, and that
under the strong conservatism of savage intellect the two ancient
decorative arts of the club and the skin have managed effectively to
avoid the new ideas.

Two of these figures show the curvilinear treatment of the end of the
club-shaft. The limiting circle in each case is the product of the work
in three dimensions; they are the ends of masses made cylindrical by
chipping and rasping from a timber source which is in itself cylindrical
by nature. In figure 48 occurs a central depression which is unique,



ADDITIONS AND ORNAMENT. I37

possibly an evolution upon the cupped depressions so frequent on the
missile clubs; it differs therefrom in having a flat floor and sides vertical
thereto. Between the limiting circles we find that the artist has dealt
with great vigor in the problem of ornament. In the radiant lines he
varies but shghtly from the trisection of the circle; the left radiant is
exactly 120° from the upper; the right is within 5° of mathematical
accuracy, a remarkable feat for a man working solely by the eye and
without dividers, with no knowledge of the constant it, evn ignorant
of the use of a piece of cord for measurement. Not only are these
points estabhshed with satisfactory precision, but in the treatment of
the three wedge-shaped bodies he displays a recognition of the diver-
gence of the radii of the circle. There is commendable vivacity in his
treatment of the concentric arcs by setting them in panels and in his
finish of the whole composition by the addition of an outer circle com-
plete. In figure 49 much cruder work appears, two concentric rings of
band-and-zigzag, with the suggestion of an inner unit of the same
beneath the obscuring four-rayed figure, the cun-es being most uncer-
tain and the angles of the center piece quite away from the rectangular
crossing.

The designer of the latter piece gives two more circles on the face of
the shaft; one (fig. 47) a plain ring with 5 radii irregularly spaced, the
other (fig. 48) with 4 equally irregularly spaced radii and a concentric
ring of poor zigzag and an outer plain ring. To another designer, in
figures 46 and 47, are attributed two similar figures of double concen-
tric circles about a central circular spot, which in the latter is consider-
ably distorted, both of these figures partaking of the general coarseness
of design upon this piece. In figure 43, still by the same artist, an
instance occurs of his avoidance of a similar circle of triple concentric
lines by a diametrical erasure such as is seen in the lozenges of figure 26 ;
in this case it is plain that the figure derives from the opposition of two
such figures of concentric angles as found at the top of the panel, and
the line of erasure is intended to hold the design to that standard. In
the decoration of the great serrated club in Plate I / is found the em-
ployment of plain disks arranged quarterly on each face of the head ;
that at the upper left of the illustration is distinguished by an inner
concentric circle quite near the edge.

On four clubs four instances of an arcuate figure occur, two single
and convex outward, two convex inward and double and triple respec-
tively. If there were no more than the single outward arcs in figures
50 and 51 we might regard them as sky symbols. So Httle intensive
study has been directed upon art motives among the Pacific islanders
that we are unable to establish the employment of such a figure as por-
traying the sky. Our utmost information as to the heavens comes from
literature rather than from art ; we have abundant proof in the myths
that the sky is looked upon as an inverted bowl. From almost every



138 CLUB TYPES OF NUCLEAR POLYNESIA.

island-group in Nuclear Polynesia, from Polynesia of the later migra-
tions, and from several sources in Melanesia we derive the tale of the
time when the sky lay fiat upon the earth and men were forced to creep
until this hero or that bridged his trunk upon the ground, arched his
shoulders, and with a mighty effort shoved the sky up into the place
which it now occupies and made room for men to walk erect. Turner
(Samoa, 198) cites briefly the variants of this legend:

"The Samoans say that of old the heavens fell down and that people had
to crawl about like the lower animals. After a time the arrowroot and another
similar plant pushed up the heavens, and the place where these plants grew
is still pointed out and called the Teengalangi, or heaven-pushing place; but
the heads of the people continued to knock on the skies, and the place was
exceedingly hot. One day a woman was passing along who had been drawing
water. A man came up to her and said he would push up the heavens if she
would give him some water to drink. ' Push them up first,' she replied. He
pushed them up and said, 'Will that do?' 'No,' said she, 'a little farther.'
He sent them up higher still and then she handed him her coconut shell water
bottle. Another account says that the giant god Ti'iti'i pushed up the
heavens, and that at the place where he stood there are hollow places in a
rock nearly six feet long which are pointed out as his footprints."

In Nanomea, Nukufetau, and Nui it is the sea-serpent who raises the
sky by standing erect upon his tail.

I have been thus particular in establishing the fact that the sky does
appear to these islanders a dome for the reason that we must be sedu-
lous to avoid the error of assuming that the truisms of our own sense per-
ception are essentially included in the psychology of the savage. It
is not in nature but in our interpretation of nature that the heavens
arch above us; there are races who are unable to see it in that form.
But it is clear that the arch of heaven is appreciated by the people of
this our present study. It does not necessarily depend therefrom that
their pictorial sense has yet reached the point of interpretation whereby
an arc can be taken to represent a dome, for they have no under-
standing of the fact that the figure formed at the intersection of certain
planes with a hemisphere is a semicircle; such optical mathematics is
far beyond their cognition. I should much preter to regard these two
arcs as pictures of the rainbow. We find, however, none of the acces-
sory sky symbols which we have been led to propose in the interpreta-
tion of figures 83 and 84. Within the arc in figure 52 we find a detail
of diagonals with four intervening heavy lines, something in the form
of such a ladder as we, but not the Polynesians, know; this figure is
unique and evades interpretation. But exterior to the arc in this
figure, interior to the arc in figure 5 1 , we find a design of parallel lines
which toward the right of the latter tend to become radiant ; with this
we must associate the crescentic ornament of slim lozenges interior to
all the arcs in figures 52 and 53, for the lozenge might readily arise as an
amplification of the straight line. One character is common to this



ADDITIONS AND ORNAMENT. 139

detail in six of these arcs: the lines are graduated within the arcs and
are free of any attachment thereto, and in the case of the seventh arc
the exterior lines are graduated in the opposite sense and are equally
free.

If the rainbow motive is feasible in the case of the outward arcs
it is quite otherwise in the case of the five inward arcs in figures 52 and
53; yet if my opinion as to the lines and lozenges be correct, it must
follow that the interpretation of the arc motive must lie in something
commonly visualized in which position is not essential. If we had to
do with figure 52 alone the mammary suggestion m.ight arise for con-
sideration, for that is a frequent motive, but this can not apply to the
single upward arcs and is naturally contraindicated in figure 53. This
attempt at interpretation has been essentially through the method of
exclusion. We lack data upon which to propose a positive interpreta-
tion of the arc with graduated lines.

The last of the curvihnear designs to be examined is the loop and tie
in figures 54 to 56. Two of these derive from the same piece of
Samoan art; the third and far more elegant employment of the same
motive derives from Tonga. There can be no doubt as to this diver-
sity of source, for the Samoan lapalapa and the Tongan paddle upon
which they appear are absolutely distinctive of the club-forms of the
two archipelagoes.

We next take up the pictorial or illustrative decoration of these
pieces, and, as has been the case in the study of the curvilinear element,
these are not types, but a collection of every animal figure which has
been incised upon these clubs.

Beginning with the quadrupeds, we find but four illustrations from
land and sea.

The first is the dog in figure 59, a very gay Httle figure and unmis-
takable. Of the mammalia the Polynesian is acquainted with no
more than five— the dog, the pig, the rat, the bat, and himself. In
the Pacific the dog takes no part in the chase, for he is characteristi-
cally too sUghtto serve against the wild boar and he would be a nuisance
in fowUng with the swing net. Cheerful companion of the savage,
even as his cheer bubbles out of this Uttle thumbnail sketch, he wags
his way into the affections and is eaten without a pang. Yet the dog
is not without honor; he has in the Samoan courtesy speech, in addi-
tion to his common designation of ull, the two honorific names of
ta'ifau and maile, and the latter is employed in celebration of the
politically and socially important island of Manono.

The only other terrestrial quadruped included in this gallery of art
is the Hzard in figure 61. It is quite possible that to the merely
decorative idea there is added in this case an ulterior suggestion, for
the common Hzard carries an element of ill luck. If it falls upon a
man from the thatch of the roof (Samoa: to'iailesu) it presages his



I40 CLUB TYPES OF NUCLEAR POLYNESIA.

death. If the soldiers are onward on to war and a hzard crosses the
path the expedition is foredoomed to disaster and in such case will
surely return to make a fresh start under better omens; but if the
lizard runs along the path with the warriors it is a sure sign of welcome
victory; therefore in Plate III k it is rich with significance that this
Uzard is carved in the direct thrust-Une of the club.

The sea- turtle is found in figures 60, 61, and 105, one quite graphic
and the others assuming conventional forms. The turtle is an incar-
nation of one of the greatest of the war gods. We have no record of
any legend of the Jonah type, such as is clearly suggested by the draw-
ing of a human figure within the belly of the turtle in figure 105, but it
is supported collaterally in Samoan custom. Here the turtle is sacred
to Moso the war-god; in lands set apart by the cult of Moso the turtle
was sanctified by a food tabu. In case any person to whom the tabu
was not binding ate the savory meat the devotees of Moso rendered
propitiation by laying a child wrapped up in leaves in a cold pit-oven,
thus typifying the preparation of food for the god, from which it is
an easy step to portray the god as having ingested the offering.

There are 12 pictures of various fishes; apparently 7 genera are
represented.

The sting ray is presented in figure 63. This is a deathly animal
by reason of its tail. The barbed bone is the instrument of secret
assassination where the murderer, lacking the courage of the club,
takes advantage of his unwary victim and stabs him with this dagger,
whose wound is regarded as inevitably fatal. The fish is the symbol
of a war-god and therefore is a miost proper addition to a club.

The shark is recognizable in figures 63 to 65. I recall no legend
in which the shark is associated with war. A representation of the
fish was the sign of a very solemn tabu of property and forecast the
punishment by the shark of any violation thereof.

In figure 66 it is permissible to recognize the bonito. This fish is
the gentleman of the sea; he is entitled to a special vocabulary in
Samoan speech (The Polynesian Wanderings, 352). In figures 67
and 69 there is a possibihty that we fi.nd the same fish, one copy
inverted; yet it is probably rather better to regard them as distinct
generically, and the same is true of figure 68 ; I do not recognize the
distinctive characters.

The four figures 70 to 73 afford us five views of an incident of the
sea, an association of bird and fish and the bird behind the fish, from
which it is an easy step to the bird after the fish; in all but one of these
views a straight line is asociated with the group, always in the same
direction, always just out of the median fine, and always interrupted
by no m.ore than wing of bird and tip of fish's tail. Despite the fact
that the fish is represented as very large and the bird as quite small,
there can be Httle doubt about the subject of these sketches. All the



ADDITIONS AND ORNAMENT. 141

sea-birds dive into the water for fish; there is only one which chases
it along the surface, as estabhshed by the interrupted Hne. This is
the triple play of bonito, flying fish, and albatross; the bonito under
the surface drives the silvery and toothsome fish, which takes to air in
its ghding flight, and there stands an equal chance of being snapped up
by the master of that element. The sight is frequent; it would natur-
ally suggest itself to the observant artist; we may be warranted in
reading into it a vaHd club suggestion, for the food motive was never
very deeply buried beneath the surface of combat in these islands.

The bird series begins at figure 75 and includes figures 90 and 104,
the first six being quite graphic, at the other end highly conventional-
ized; but the two very effective groups of flight serve conclusively to
establish the convention (figs. 81 and 82). Specific characters are
very scantily indicated in this collection.

In figures 75 and 76 we feel warranted in the behef that the same
bird is portrayed, despite some sHght differences in the execution, a
length of bill and of tail accompanied by straightness of legs being
similar in the two carvings. In figures 77 and 78 occurs a common
character in the triangular form of the legs; I interpret this as a con-
vention indicative of the web-foot of the sea-birds and shall undertake
to support the principle of perspective when we discuss the far more


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryWilliam ChurchillClub types of nuclear Polynesia → online text (page 16 of 21)