Niuean Katoua (club)

This is our final blog in our series focusing on Niue taoga (treasures) from Te Papa’s collection for Vagahau (Language) Niue Week (6-13 October).

In recent times, the katoua, a long club or cleaving club, has become an iconic symbol representing identity and culture for many Niueans. Used in festival and school performances, it is a Niuean object unique to the island.

Katoua (club); Niue; OL000169.S/9; Oldman Collection. Gift of the New Zealand Government, 1992; Te Papa

Katoua (club); Niue; OL000169.S/9; Oldman Collection. Gift of the New Zealand Government, 1992; Te Papa

These weapons measure between 900mm and 1800mm. The katoua was a piercing weapon, used after the initial throwing of the maka (stone). Made from brown wood, katoua have a central sharp ridge along the length of the blade on both sides; the butt end is pointed, with a collar on the rounded shaft.

Katoua (club); Niue; FE007919; Deposited by Dr Edward Ellison, 1931; Te Papa

Katoua (club); Niue; FE007919; Deposited by Dr Edward Ellison, 1931; Te Papa

Katoua (club); Niue; FE004017/2; Te Papa

Katoua (club); Niue; FE004017/2; Te Papa

A number of katoua in the Pacific Cultures Collection were discovered to have incised designs at the butt end of the shaft, and a few had wrapped sennit (coconut-husk fibre), feathers, egg cowrie shells, and braided human hair wound around the lower part of the shaft. As a result of close examination of the feathers, Hokimate Harwood (Te Papa’s Bicultural Science Researcher) was able to identify some of the feathers attached to both katoua and tao (spear) as being from the belly of the kulukulu, or purple-capped dove, the tail of the henga, or blue-crowned lorikeet, and the back of the lupe, or Pacific pigeon (Ducula pacifica).

To read more about Te Papa’s Niue collection, please view the following article: Exploring ‘the Rock': Material culture from Niue Island in Te Papa’s Pacific Cultures Collection, (2011)

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