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Bow fana

Bow fana

Place: Tahiti & Society Islands
Category: Ritual

wood, Tahiti and the Society Islands, l. 162 cm, d. 3.5–4 cm (max.), Inv. Oz 350

Humphrey No. 302. ‘a bow made of white wood, from the Society Isles.’

The simple bow made of light-brown, light-weight wood is slightly curved. The bow is oval in cross-section and is flattened at the front in the direction of fire. Towards the ends, which have been cut off straight, it tapers to become circular in cross-section. Because the string, hua, is no longer present, nothing definite can be said about the stringing. Any reference to it is missing in the written sources (cf. Ihle 1939a: 198). Although the illustration Artifacts from Tahiti by J.F. Miller, British Library (cf. Kaeppler 1978a: 144) shows a strung bow, there is only inadequate visual indication as to the fixing of the string at the ends of the bow, as in the drawing in Moschner (1955: 159). Ellis (1830, I: 299f.) named the light, tough and pale wood of the purau (Hibiscus tiliaceus) as the main type of wood used to make bows. Sparrman (in: Söderström 1939: 25) included in his collection a bow made of the white wood of the breadfruit tree, uru (Artocarpus incisa). According to Moerenhout (1837, II: 148) and Wilson (1799: 368), the material for the strings was obtained from the bast of roa or romaha (Pipturus argenteus).

Whereas Parkinson (1773: 24, 57) classified the bows (Ewhahana) with the weapons, Cook (in Beaglehole 1955, I: 132) was amazed that these weapons, in his opinion ‘none of the worst’, were not used in warfare. Neither these authors, nor the other participants of the Cook expeditions, nor those of the preceding voyages of Wallis and Bougainville, were able to show any evidence of their use in warfare. Banks (1896: 142) viewed archery exclusively as a form of pastime. According to Handy (1930:58), archery, te’a, was even a ‘sacred sport’ which only members of the nobility were allowed to pursue, and he asked himself in this connection: ‘Is it not possible that the original ari’i, establishing their supremacy in a country in which they where enormously outnumbered, may have made the bow tapu for the sake of self-protection, thereafter preserving their own skill in its use by practicing at it as a sport?’

The clearest confirmation of the religious significance of archery competitions is the fact that the participants had to undergo purification ceremonies in the central temple squares, marae, before and after the competitions (cf. Henry 1928: 276). Ellis (1830, I: 300f.) described the course of these competitions in detail. Special ‘archery platforms’ have been archaeologically identified by Emory (1933: 89) in the Papenoo district of Tahiti-Nui.

Comparative studies on archery in Oceania in general, and in the Society Islands in particular, are found in Frobenius (1925), Ihle (1934a), and Plischke (1957). Bows from the Cook voyages are held in collections in Stockholm, Oxford, Cambridge, Vienna, and Florence (cf. Söderström 1939: 25; Moschner 1955: 156; Kaeppler 1978a: 144; Kaeppler 1978b: 120f.) Gundolf Krüger


Banks, Joseph, Journal of the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Banks During Captain Cook’s First Voyage in H.M.S. Endeavour in 1768-71 to Terra del Fuego. Otahite, New Zealand, Australia, the Dutch East Indies etc., by Sir Joseph D Hooker, London, 1896.

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.

Emory, Kenneth P, Stone Remains in the Society Islands, Bernice P Bishop Museum Bulletin , vol. 116, Honolulu, 1933.

Frobenius, Leo, Erlebte Erdteile, 7 Bde., Bd.ll: Erschlossene Räume: Das Problem Ozeanien, Frankfurt am Main, 1925.

Handy, ES Craighill, History and Culture in the Society Islands, Bernice P Bishop Museum Bulletin, vol. 79, Honolulu, 1930.

Henry, Teuira, Ancient Tahiti, Bernice P Bishop Museum Bulletin, vol. 48, Honolulu, 1928.

Ihle, Alexander, ‘Der Bogen und seine Verwendung auf Tahiti. Im Anschluß an Göttinger Sammlungsmaterial’ in: Hans Plischke (Hrsg.), Göttinger Völkundliche Studien, Leipzig 1939a, S. 192-214.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, ‘Artificial Curiosities’ Being An Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook RN [Exhibition catalogue], Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978a.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, ‘Artificial Curiosities’ Being An Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook RN [Exhibition catalogue], Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978b.

Moerenhout, JU, Voyages aux îles du Grand Océan, 2 Bde., Paris, 1837.

Moschner, Irmgard, ‘Die Wiener Cook-Sammlung, Südsee-Teil’, Archiv für Völkerkunde, Vienna & Stuttgart, 1955, vol. 10, pp. 136-253.

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

Plischke, Hans, ‘Bogen und Pfeil auf den Tonga-Inseln und in Polynesien’, Göttinger Völkerkundliche Studien, Düsseldorf, 1957, vol. 1, pp. 207-225.

Söderström, Jan, A. Sparrman’s Ethnographical Collection from James Cook’s 2nd Expedition (1772-75), New Series, Publication no. 6, The Ethnographical Museum of Sweden, Stockholm, 1939.

Wilson, James, A Missionary Voyage to the Southern Pacific Ocean. Performed in the Years 1796, 1797, 1798 in the Ship Duff commanded by Captain James Wilson, London, 1799.

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