The warring tribes of Oceania’s Fiji were rarely seen without a Fijian Ula close to hand. Ula’s had a dual purpose and a unique place in the Fijian’s arsenal of weapons. They are the most common of all Fijian weapons. This fact is probably because they were the most effective, easiest to carry and most versatile in battle, quicker to make and finally several were carried at once.
The dual purpose of the Fijian Ula was as a high-velocity missile and as a weapon for killing an enemy. With the help of the extended handle, the ula could be thrown at high speed and with great accuracy. The target was the opponents head, which could suffer colossal damage and undoubtedly death from a single blow.
Having thrown the Ula, the wise Fijian warrior would carry several more wrapped in the folds of his cloth belt. Ensuring a completed kill and fending off further attackers. With this close daily contact with the warrior, the Ula was an essential object of display and symbol passed from generation to generation. On the death of the warrior, according to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum his ula’s would be placed in the temple wrapped in barkcloth with a tabua tooth, coated in turmeric. Fijian turmeric has a particularly high concentration of curcumin, the active healing ingredient. It would have been revered as magical and even spiritual.
This Fijian Ula is called a ‘I ula tavatava’. It shares the name with another club that has an incised head such as this one. The current club, however, has nine lobes of uneven size and a central domed point. The stem tapers thinner in the middle and fatter at the ends. The stem is incised with horizontal and vertical zigzags within raised lines around the end to act as a handle. The tip is recessed into the handle.
The Ula is in very good condition with naturally occurring fissures in the dome and one of the lobes, there is a slight fault in the stem near the head. The Ula is a dark red-brown patina and well-handled surface.
The Auckland Museum holds a collection of Fijian weapons, they have a similar Fijian Ula tavatava. Ref 14780.1 Theirs is slightly larger and at 43cm long and the lobed head has 11 lobes by contrast to our 9. Our lobes being of a smooth curve, the Auckland Museum’s has a more rectangular profile to the head.
Meanwhile, in Exeter, England, another Ula of the same name is managed by RAMM. This Ula 119/1937/58 is almost identical to ours and shares 9 lobes, the handle is plain whereas ours is engraved. It also lacks the warmth of the patina exhibited on ours.