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Place: Tahiti & Society Islands
Category: Ritual

bamboo, wood, coconut fibre, Tahiti and the Society Islands, l. 77.4–80.4 cm, d. 0.5–0.7 cm, Inv. Oz 412–417

Humphrey No. 303: ‘Four Reed arrows pointed with hard black wood, from the same [Society] Isles.’

And: Humphrey Nos. 314, 315, 316: ‘A Quiver ... and 2 arrows similar to those described no. 303, from the Society Isles.’

The six arrows are made of light coloured bamboo cane, each with an c. 8 cm-long blunt point made of hard, dark wood that is set into the shaft with a spike. About 0.7 cm below the internode at the base of each arrow is a notch to hold the bowstring, 0.2 to 0.3 cm deep. Below the internode, a notched ring 0.5 cm wide is wound round with a finely plaited coconut fibre string. For a length of 7 to 20 cm from the lower end, the arrow shafts are coated with a thin black dye. The same coating (probably resin) is continued along both the shaft and the point and these are also secured by a lashing made of finely plaited string, resting in a notch 0.5 cm deep.

Traditionally, the arrows were made from the slender shoots of the bamboo, ‘ofe or ‘ohe. In the literature sources, the term ‘bamboo cane’ in most cases means the same as ‘arrow’. However, Parkinson (1773:24, 39, 57, 75) distinguished between e owhe (Arundo-bamboo) and e ‘ohe (arrow). He added that, apart from the points made of hard toa or ‘aito wood (Beaglehole 1955, I: 132; Ellis 1830, I: 300; A Tahitian and English Dictionary 1851: 275: Casuarina equisetifolia), points were sometimes also made from the dorsal spine of the stingray, also used for lance points. The sources agree that the arrows, like the Göttingen specimens, were unfeathered, and that the arrow points made of wood were without barbs. Gundolf Krüger


Beaglehole, John Cawte, The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery. The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768-1771, Hakluyt Society, Extra Series, 34, vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1955-1968 I.

Ellis, William, Polynesian Researches During a Residence of Nearly Eight Years in the Society and Sandwich Islands, London, 1830-1853, vol. 4.

Parkinson, Sydney, A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas in his Majesty’s Ship, the Endeavour, London, 1773.

A Tahitian and English dictionary: with introductory remarks on the Polynesian language and a short grammar of the Tahitian dialect, London Missionary Society Press, Tahiti, 1851.

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