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On display on Level 1

Fijian Fiji

Kinikini [club /shield]

C.1840-1880 Place made: Fiji Polynesia
Materials & Technique: arms and armour, clubs, wood
Dimensions: 125.0 h x 50.0 w x 5.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2011
Accession No: NGA 2011.169

More detail

In pre-Christian Fiji, carvers created an array of weapons for different forms of combat. One of the most extraordinary and technically difficult to produce was the kinikini. Imposing in size, they were carried by only the warrior elite of priests and chiefs.

Carved by specialists, matai-ni-malumu, kinikini were expensive to create; only those wealthy enough to pay for feasts to celebrate and to present other property to the artist could afford to have such impressive weapons commissioned. This recently acquired kinikini is created from an extremely dense wood; the width also indicates that it came from a large tree. Often the specialist artist submerged selected timber in salt water for months prior to reducing it to the desired form with a tool kit of stone adzes. The surface would then be smoothed with shell scrapers and rasps of sharkskin. Clubs sometimes had ritual and ceremonial functions, and those that were successful in battle attained levels of mana and were given personal names.

The kinikini form acted as a parrying shield against projectiles as well as being an offensive weapon. When held with both hands it could deliver a lethal blow—the thin edge of the blade was designed to snap through bone. During warfare in the nineteenth century, priests and chiefs lead from the front of their armies thus being at risk of injury from spears and, as the nineteenth century drew on, from rifle fire. The wandering crosshatched design is now devoid of the white lime paint it once had—this would have added a brilliance to the club and make the priest identifiable from a distance. During warfare, priests were to be avoided at all costs: Fijian priests were often possessed by a deity and to injure or kill a priest, even one who is an enemy, would lead to spiritual damnation.

Crispin Howarth
Curator, Pacific Art

in artonview, issue 67, spring 2011