Image: Pedestal adze, Cook Islands PUN750

Pedestal adze, Cook Islands PUN750

Local name: Ruatangaeo

Provenance: Mangaia, Cook Islands, Polynesia, Pacific

The stone tool in general use throughout Polynesia was the adze, with a multiplicity of functions ranging from its use as a weapon, as a carving tool, or as an object of art or ceremony. The Mangaians were regarded as the best craftsmen in the Pacific to work with coconut fibre sennit (the fibre used to lash the black basalt blade to the shaft), developing complicated forms of lashing as demonstrated in this object. Usually a piece of shark skin is laid over the butt to give grip to the lashing turns. Several theories expound the religious or ceremonial nature of this particular type of adze, either symbolizing Tane-Mata-Ariki, the god of craftsmen, or connected with peace-making. However, the oldest adzes of religious affinity have slender handles covered with a K-motif surface decoration. In later times, when adzes of this type became popular with European collectors, they increased in size and developed a greater variety of handle types in order to meet foreign demand: thus, by the nineteenth century, hafts expanded into enlarged pedestals and innovations such as the octagonal form of shaft, and square holes in the pedestals were introduced. Eventually, the lashing technique was also forgotten.

Description: quadrangular base with finely carved geometric designs and 18 squares on all sides; octagonal section above, each side decorated with two, finely carved, alternating geometric designs; rectangular metal blade lashed to handle with finely plaited sennit cord.

Height: 43cm; Length: 24.5cm; Width: 12.5cm

Emma Furno
© Australian Museum

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