Movie: Tree-Felling Axes, Mendi, PNG

 Trevor Shearston made a significant donation of artefacts from the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea in 2009. Here Trevor tells us about several tree felling axes he collected from the Mendi area, how they were made and how they were used.

©  Australian Museum and Trevor Shearston
Finton Mahony
Trevor Shearston


Trevor Shearston:

This is a tree-felling axe from the Mendi area, Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. It has a greenstone blade. It has a timber shaft or handle. It is bound in a separate hafting timber. This piece of timber with the stone is one piece of timber split at one end, the stone is inserted, then that section of the axe is bound tightly that way, to contain the stone within the hafting section. The handle section with couch through here to take the rounded portion of the haft. The hafted section is then attached to the stone hafting section, and that binding is done.

The reason why this is so obviously a tree-felling axe is the much more robust handle, the much more robust and thick blade, and the roughness of the binding is indicative of the fact that this is a tree-felling tool. It is bound with coarse cane rather than the fine cane used on fighting axes. It’s bound with coarse cane and then just finished off with a bit of banana - looks like banana fibre.
The reason why the binding is much more coarse on a tree-felling axe is the fact that these blades will break or dislodge from the hard work they’re doing cutting timber, so therefore there is no point going to a great deal of trouble with elaborate binding. This is just work binding.

If the stone breaks then the binding is rapidly taken off, a new stone is inserted, this binding is done again. Often the stone can be inserted. If the stone can’t be inserted into the existing hole then a new bind has to be done here and the entire axe has to be remade. So that’s why the binding is as rough as it is.

And it’s used with two hands, into the tree thus. This is obviously used by a right-hander, because of the slight angle that has been placed on the blade. So a right-hander will be using the axe in that way.

The owner of the axe will carry with him - he’ll probably have another axe. He will almost certainly have two or three more blades because he doesn’t want to be out in the middle of the forest and find he’s broken the blade and he has only one in his possession. So he will have other blades approximately the same size as this one, to refit this axe if he needs to.

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Tags Finton, Shearston, Mendi, tools, artefact, stone, PNG, intangible,