Nicholas Wells Antiques are Specialist Tribal Art Dealers in London. We offer superb ceremonial quality tribal weapons such as the Fijian Sali here shown with tidy piercing into the head of the club were also perfectly capable combat weapons, the hard Vesi / ironwood was both dense and incredibly strong. These weapons with a pronounced edge may be compared to the European battle-ax. Slowly cut and intricately detailed only with shells these early tribal art works are truly incredible and pre-date the arrival of metal utensils.
The rootstock club, like the Ula Drisia is fashioned from a Vesi tree grown specifically for the purpose, the perfectly straight shaft is in contrast to the Sali and the Gata which were encouraged to grow with a curve. The rootstock is another Fijian tribal combat weapon, both brutal and solid more akin to a European mace. Ours retains its original choir chord wrap made from twisted sinnet and incised decorative Tava Tava on the handle.
“Clubs – the most primitive weapon are greatly prized by the Fijian. Those which belong to distinguished warriors have emphatic names, e.g A saut, lamolamora, “For war, though all be at peace.” Na tagi, ka kere bole, “The Weeping (ie for the dead I slew) urges me again to action” Veitalakote, “The disperser.” Kadiga ni damuni, “Damaging beyond Hope.”Williams, Thomas: Fiji and The Fijians, 1858
Rootstock Ula Drisia
Fast and lethal solid rootball ula’s were grown and nurtured into form,
the heavy heads were perfect missiles. Several were carried at once,
these were the Colt pistols of the Fijian Islands. Markedly less worked than the lobed Ula Tavatava,
these clubs were meant for fighting, they have wonderful rich patina and interesting surface details.
Ula Fijian War Clubs, I Ula Tavatava, Ironwood, Fiji, Western Polynesia
How were they used?
For something so elaborate and carefully crafted, it seems hard to believe that Ula clubs like these ones were randomly thrown high, hopeful of hitting the enemy. Especially having invested significant time to make, only for the enemy to pick up and lob back.
However, one proposal is that the approach was to throw multiple war clubs high so they rained down on the enemy. This combined with an attack with other flying missiles. Causing injury and damage making way for the second wave of brutal fighting.
Hand to hand fighting with spears and clubs. Being such a handy size and carefully balanced weapon, the ula had a dual purpose of finishing the attack, bludgeoning the enemy with decisive killing blows.
Given the general condition of the Ula clubs on the market, the throw them high approach seems somewhat unlikely and a bit random. I don’t see any collectors wishing to test this on their own ula collection.
While many collectors would wish for raining ula’s, a weapon with such a heavy head could also be thrown with power and precision at the enemy causing significant injury and disorientation. Following up with the remaining handheld clubs to finish the attack. There is no doubt that this club as a missile could inflict terrible damage, the length of the shaft amplifying the energy of the throw.
As several were carried, the spares would replace one if it were thrown, dropped or lost. Day to day they were carried as a symbol of power rather than actually needing to be used.
Vesi Wood / Ironwood – a very dense and heavy Fijian wood.
The British Museum has a Ula Fijian War Club by the same name as this one – Ula Tavatava – it is made of a lighter wood and carved in a more open manner, it was acquired in 1844. Oc1844,0725.10.
The Horniman Museum has a collection of several Oceanic throwing clubs, including a dark wood Ula Kobo club with pronounced reeded head and banded pommel. Ref NN16466 Another more closely related example Ref NN1.25 from the mid 19th century has some stylistic differences and notably a less perfect curved stem, it is somewhat cruder than the present example which is perfectly straight.
The prestige of clubs is elevated with the scale and quality of the carving. Furthermore, if the patina is untouched and original and its woven cord remains intact. The balance of our Ula’s are exceptional and they would have been among the prized possessions of an important tribal leader revealing his status and prestige.
… A missile weapon which is thrown with great force with the hand, revolving rapidly in the air as it flies and striking a very formidable blow, often in the face. Settlers in Fiji told me it was the only native weapon which they feared when fighting the Fijians.Henry Mosely’s describing (1879:338)
Incredible intricate geometric artistically carved details adorn these clubs from end to end, some examples have small glyphs carved as human figures and sharks with pronounced fins and tails. Headrests were also popular and great attention was paid to achieve the perfect proportions, balance, and symmetry.
Nicholas Wells Antiques is proud to present Josiah Martin and Elizabeth Pullman: the Maori Collection. Please do get in touch if you are interested in any of the photographs shown, as all are currently available!
Josiah Martin and Elizabeth Pullman’s photographs of New Zealand, the surrounding islands and the people were hugely popular during the second half of the nineteenth century and can be found today in major museum collections all over the world. At the height of empire, their images fed the desire for exoticism and the people, whose culture was so different to that of Europeans, emphasised the global impact and power of the British Empire.
Josiah Martin was born in London in 1843 but emigrated to New Zealand shortly after 1868. When he first arrived, he was mostly concerned with education; he was a teacher, a Headmaster, and helped to establish the Teacher’s Association in New Zealand and various new schools. He traveled back to London in 1879 where he was introduced to the latest technologies in photography at the Royal College of Chemistry. He was inspired to take this knowledge back to New Zealand and for photography to be his next venture.
Back in New Zealand, Josiah went about setting up a photographic studio and joined a photographic society in Auckland where he presented his work. He famously captured the eruption of Mount Tarawera, and his photos were shown in the Auckland Evening Star. Josiah was obviously a man of many interests; he was editor of Sharlands New Zealand Photographer and a founding member of the Auckland Society of Arts. He served on the Auckland Institute Council from 1881-1892 and was the President of the Council in 1889. After his death in 1916, many of Martin’s photographic collections were donated to the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Elizabeth Pullman and her husband, George, were also English born émigrés to New Zealand in 1861. They set up their own photographic studio in Auckland and were amongst the earliest photographers in the country. Indeed, Elizabeth is often credited as being the first female professional photographer in New Zealand. After George’s death in 1871, Elizabeth ran the studio on her own until it was sold to the Government Tourist Bureau just before her death in 1900. Pulman’s Photographic Studio left a legacy of many prints of historical interest, in both portrait and scenic subjects. Among the portraits are photographs of many important Maori chiefs of the North Island, including Tawhiao, the second Maori King, taken in Auckland shortly after he left his King Country stronghold.