Kinikini from Fiji, Oceania. Collected by Mr. Isaacs in 1860 or 1861. Given to the Museum by Thomas Francis Fremantle Cottesloe in 1920.
With its oversized, fan-shaped head, the kinikini is one of Fiji's most distinctive clubs, although it was also exported for use in Tonga.
The kinikini is one of the most challenging clubs to carve, at 1.5 metres long and 0.5 metres wide, which is the width of the hardwood trunk from which it was hewn in one piece. Indeed, this example proved too large to photograph in its entirety so only the head or 'blade' is shown here. It is decorated with carved cross-hatching that has been rubbed with a white, burnt coral paste to make the design stand out more clearly. The slim shaft is smooth and undecorated with a small pommel.
Paddle shaped war-clubs were common in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, but the proportions of kinikini meant they were seldom used for fighting. Instead, they were used exclusively by chiefs and priests for ceremonial purposes. It is likely that King Thakombau, also known as Ratu Epenisa Seru Cakobau, gave this particular example to Robert Macintosh Isaacs in 1860-61. Isaacs became Solicitor General of New South Wales, Australia in 1866.
Given the weight, size and practical unwieldiness of the kinikini, combined with it's imposing appearance and the labour-intensive nature of its manufacture, it is not surprising to learn that it was the insignia of high status individuals in both Fiji and Tonga. Specifically, it was restricted to the use of chiefly individuals ('Ratu' in Fiji, 'Hou'eiki' in Tonga) and priests ('Bete' in Fiji, 'Taula' in Tonga). For chiefs, they were considered valuable family heirlooms and powerful symbols of rank and authority. When used by priests in rituals they became invested with a supernatural power: in his 1866 account of his missionary work in Fiji, the Methodist minister Joseph Waterhouse recounted how he had witnessed priests beat the ocean waves with their 'sacred shovel clubs' to subdue a wild hurricane.
Although there are descriptions of the thin edge of the kinikini being used in a cleaving action in combat, another reason for the unlikelihood of such usage is the formal exemption of chiefs and priests from violent contact during battle. Traditionally, the general practice in large-scale land engagements in Western Polynesia was for the sides to let fly a volley of arrows at a distance of around thirty metres, before charging to engage. Since neither the priest of chief was expected to enter into hand-to-hand contact, the moment of this volley release was when they were potentially subject to as much danger as their warriors. Consequently, the shield-like shape of the kinikini can be seen to have developed as an elite protection against such arrows.