Dear Helaine and Joe:
We have had this item in our family for many years. We have no idea what it is or what it may be worth. Do you know?
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Dear D. F.:
This item looks so innocent propped up against a garden bench. It might be a walking cane used by an injured person to help with mobility, or it might have been used for some other innocuous purpose like herding sheep.
But no, the item was a very serious and deadly weapon of war used by the inhabitants of the Fiji islands. The sharp, conical point on the end was designed to be driven through the skull of an opponent and the heavy carved knob behind this was meant to add momentum to the killing blow.
It is not the sort of item kept around the living room unless there is a collection of ethnographica from Oceania to go with it.
Today, we tend to think of Fiji as a beautiful tourist mecca nestled in the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean and peopled by charming Melanesians. But when Captain James Cook first encountered them in the 18th century, they were described as "formidable warriors and ferocious cannibals." They were best known for their bark cloth and war clubs, of which the item in today's question is a fine example.
The variety of Fijian war clubs is extensive. Some were made for fighting in grasslands, some for fighting in bush, some were made for throwing, some were made to cut through flesh and bone, some to smash and puncture, and still others used in ceremonial dance rituals. The various types of Fijian clubs have names such as kiakano, gata, sali, culacula and kinikini, to name a few.
The example belonging to D. F. is called a totokia. It was often carried by chiefs both in life and in death. It is said to have been a favored instrument for murder, execution, finishing off the wounded in battle and for fighting among bushes because it was effective without an exaggerated swing that might have been impeded by the foliage and branches.
These are sometimes described as "pineapple clubs," but that is a misnomer – the design originated in Fiji long before the introduction of the pineapple plant. Instead, the heavy spikey knob on the totokia is modeled on the fruit of the pandanus tree.
With this information we know D. F. can find tons more on the internet, but she can also consult "Fijian Weapons & Warfare" by Fergus Clunie. As for value and age, the piece may be late 19th or early 20th century, but an in-person inspection would be necessary to make sure of a more precise date. Depending on a lot of factors not readily seen in the photographs, the monetary value should be in the range of $1,500 to $3,000, but beware, reproductions very similar to the piece are being made in resin.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you'd like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.