’U’u are deceptively simple objects—beautifully made clubs used as status objects in a warrior society. Although created as weapons, ’u’u were far more than mere implements for removing heads from shoulders. Each ’u’u was created as a work of art, a connection between a man and his ancestors, his chief and his gods.
Each ’u’u began with the decision to create it, then working with the ritual specialist to locate the tree with the right grain which was owned by the right person. It was selected then felled with absolute respect for the atua (gods or spirits) associated with the land and the tree and who owned the rights to it. Then began the long process of treating the wood, soaking it in the right swamp so that it would hold the very dark, almost black, colour.
Sculpting the wood was the responsibility of a highly skilled artist who understood the wood, his tools (stone), and most importantly the spiritual associations that the ’u’u would bring together. These associations were expressed through the many layers of symbolism that could be read into the ’u’u. For example, looking at one face of this two-faced ’u’u, we can see at least six pairs of eyes, with an equal number on the other face. The strong horizontal element with the central head is one of the keys to interpretation; directly beneath it are atua symbols, which work on many levels.
Michael Gunn, Senior Curator, Pacific Arts
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014