'Walking' club from the Solomon Islands, Oceania. Collected by Robert Henry Codrington by 1888. Given to the Museum in 1920.
This metre-long club is described as a 'walking club' but there is no evidence to say that it actually doubled up as a walking stick. Solomon Island clubs of this general shape, with a long, slim shaft and broad, leaf-shaped head bisected by a narrow ridge, were used in combat and in dances that preceded battles. Examples have been collected from the islands of Santa Isabel, Florida and Guadalcanal.
This club is from Santa Isabel, a region with a distinctive and rich artistic culture that emphasizes wood-carving and shell inlay. Here, frigate birds are carved into the paddle face, whilst the butt section features two outward-facing human heads. The designs are picked out in red and white. Yet this white colour is not provided by shell inlay or whale ivory, but by 'vegetable ivory'. This is a hard, mock ivory, produced using the nut of the commonplace Sago palm. As early as the 1880s, more than 300 tonnes of vegetable ivory were being exported from the Solomons, and constituted one of the archipelago's major sources of revenue. The use of this material and the highly decorative appearance of this club suggest that it may have been made as an early piece of tourist art. Nonetheless, it maintains the high-quality tradition of Solomons wood-carving which still thrives today and supplies many of the handicrafts markets in Sydney, Auckland, Suva and Honolulu.