Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 13. Inlaid Club, Fiji.

Property from the Estate of Valerie Franklin, Sold to Benefit the Hood Museum of Art

Inlaid Club, Fiji

Lot Closed

May 18, 06:15 PM GMT


25,000 - 35,000 USD

Lot Details


Property from the Estate of Valerie Franklin, Sold to Benefit the Hood Museum of Art

Inlaid Club, Fiji

Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) tooth inlays

Length: 41 1/2 in (105.4 cm)

Dr Justin G. Stein, Los Angeles
Harry A. Franklin, Beverly Hills, acquired from the above by the late 1960s
Valerie Franklin, Los Angeles, by descent from the above
George R. Ellis, Oceanic Art: A Celebration of Form, San Diego, 2009, p. 101, cat. no. 80

This exceptional club illustrates the great care which was lavished on the finest and most prestigious Fijian clubs, which served not only as fighting weapons but as emblems of rank.

The decoration of this club is of unusually fine quality, with a rigorous and carefully structured design. Bands of exceptionally fine carving appear along the handle of the club, and the "cheeks" of the head are decorated with a deeply carved lattice of triangular forms which undulate slightly, like a fine net cast across the surface. This carving is divided by bands of subtly different vertical carving which occur at the three points where ivory "stars" are inlaid on either side of the club. The inlays all appear to have been placed when the club was made, as within the elaborate and carefully conceived scheme of carved decoration circular forms have been left void for the inlays to be inserted into. Another large inlay of similar form appears at the pommel of the club. With the overwhelming importance of sperm whale teeth, tabua, in Fijian society, weapons inlaid with the same material were symbols of considerable prestige, and this club was doubtless made for a man of great status and mana. As Clunie notes, "ivory inlaid clubs were distinguished as being vonotabua, the actual inlays usually being traded from Tonga" (Clunie, Fijian Weapons and Warfare, Suva, 1973, p. 50); William Mariner, who lived in Tonga from 1806 to 1810, claimed that the inlays were made mainly by Tongan canoe-builders (Mariner and Martin, An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands, Edinburgh, 1827, p. 251).

The form shows a close resemblance to both the gata and sali or cali types of spurred club, with the size of the head more akin to the former, but the decorated "cheeks" suggesting the sali type, of which this would be a particularly elaborate example. The top edge of the cylindrical shaft gradually forms a subtle yet well-defined ridge which becomes sharper as it flows into the graceful yet menacing upswept spur which is characteristic of both gata and sali. The outer edge of this spur is decorated here with an exceptionally fine band of carving. We should note that whilst inlaid clubs as a whole are rare, particularly in comparison to "plain" examples, inlaid examples of either the sali or gata form are exceptionally rare and few can be found in collections.

All forms of spurred clubs were much used as dance clubs, but the present club has the heft and weight of a fighting club, whilst when specially made dance clubs were invariably of lighter weight. In warfare gata and sali were used in the same manner, with the head "effectively a scythe [...] and the long spur […] probably used like the ‘beak’ of the totokia, for piercing." (Ewins, Fijian Artefacts, Hobart, 1982, p. 41).

Both gata and sali clubs have historically been referred to as "gunstock clubs", but as has long since been pointed out this name is fanciful, as the form existed well before muskets were introduced to Fiji in the early 19th century. Clunie notes that the name is instead derived from the clawed flower, sali, of one of the wild banana-like plants of the Musa species found widely in the Fijian bush (Clunie, ibid., p. 54). As with the gata, the tree used to make the sali would have been trained as a sapling so that the grain of the wood follows the curved form of the club unbroken; this lends the weapon greater strength and doubtless slightly eased the laborious task of making it, which must have been considerable in the case of a club as elaborate as this.