Image 'Akau-tä (club), 18th century

TLF ID R6106

This is a long fighting club created in Tonga in the 18th century. It flares from a round grip to a wider, thicker tip and is completely covered with intricate incised designs, including several miniature figures on the shaft and flattened end (figures are not visible in this image). Most of the carving is extremely fine, although that on the handle area is much coarser. It has a single, raised ridge around the shaft, about one-third of the length from the tip. At the base of the club is a small perforated lug for a cord. It measures 93.0 cm and at its widest is 10.4 cm.

Educational details

Educational value
  • The club is thought to have been collected during Captain James Cook's second or third voyage to the Pacific - Captain James Cook (1728-79) was an English explorer, navigator and cartographer who surveyed and mapped the coastline of New Zealand, the islands in the Pacific and the east coast of Australia.
  • 'Akau-tä were symbols of rank - when they were first made, 'akau-tä had almost no carved decoration on them, but every time the warrior was successful in battle, a new part of his club would be carved; the process of full carving could, therefore, take a long time.
  • This club has carvings over the entire surface, suggesting its owner was a highly skilled warrior - alternatively, it may have been finished to the order of the person who took it to England.
  • The carvings on the club are extremely detailed, and were probably made with a shark tooth implement - the coarser carving on the handle would have been produced by a nail or other metal tool, possibly to facilitate a firm grip.
  • Fighting clubs such as this one were the principal weapons of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji - fighting clubs provided a vehicle for decorative carving and the Tongan clubs, in particular, are renowned for their detailed geometrical decoration and miniature figures depicting male activities such as hunting, fishing and fighting.
  • The club was described in the sale catalogue of Bullock's Museum in London, England, in 1819 as 'A beautiful short War-Club - presumed to be the finest ever brought from the South Seas'.
  • This asset is part of the St Oswald collection, which is now held by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa - the items in this collection were bought from Bullock's Museum in 1819 by Charles Winn (1795-1874); in 1912, after they had been in the family for nearly 100 years, Charles Winn's grandson, the Second Baron St Oswald, gifted them to the Dominion of New Zealand museum.

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Organization: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
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  • Address: Wellington, NEW ZEALAND
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  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
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  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Organization: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Address: Wellington, NEW ZEALAND
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements