Subject: matato'a war chief
Culture: Rapanui / Easter Islander
Setting: tribal warfare, Easter Island late 18th-early 19thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Mondo 2002 p89-91
"For about ten centuries the leadership of the royal lineage -- based on religion -- had been able to build and sustain a cohesive society, in spite of the difficulties [caused by the scarcity of food]. It was also able to support a growing population with the impoverished resources of the island. At some stage, which might have been halfway through the sixteenth century, this social, political, religious and economic system gradually fell into a crisis that forced inhabitants to look for new mechanisms of adaptation to environmental conditions. Lack of food promoted the development of slightly more efficient economies, although still severely limited by the surroundings, and new religious practices, especially those related to fertility. Subsistence had become the prime motivation of the islanders, who also found in the internal wars a means to reduce the production drastically.
"[...] These changes in attitudes and customs were also reflected in the production of the material culture, as different artifacts for waging war began to be produced on a large scale. Large wooden maces (ua), short clubs (paoa) and knives or spears with great obsidian heads (mata'a) showed the importance given to armed confrontations. Numerous legends refer to this period of internal wars that were notable for extreme cruelty and violence, the frequent practice of cannibalism and the struggle between clans."
* Fischer 2005 p54
"A revolutionary change had long been in the offing. Already from about AD 1250 the new erect mo'ai atop the ahu were signalling the rise of individual authority: the first matato'a or warrior-leaders meant the simultaneous weakening of the once omnipotent 'ariki mau, the island's paramount chief. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, this chief's secular power had been exhausted as forests disappeared and soils washed away. The almost complete lack of wood prevented canoe-making for deep-sea fishing, the privilege of the all powerful Miru mata whose leader, the 'ariki mau, was responsible for upholding resources and distributing wealth. As the secular power of the 'ariki mau had waned, that of the matato'a -- in particular those warrior-leaders of the eastern Tupa 'Otu -- had waxed.
"So it was matato'a who now distributed the intensive dry-field cultivars (sweet potatoes, yams, taro and bananas) and scanty catches of fish. It was to the leading matato'a that Islanders increasingly looked for their resources, th*eir safety, even their good fortune. The 'ariki mau still held supernatural power and certain personal privileges, but even these were now being challenged by the eastern matato'a. The traditional hereditary prerogative was being disregarded wholesale for achieved status."
* Rapa Nui, 110 años 1998 p42
"[E]l período Huri Moai (derribamiento de los Moai) ... duró casi 200 años. Produciéndose el desorden social, guerras tribales, pérdida de valores, conocimientos, ceremonias y rituales. En este período, los reyes de la tribu de los Miru continuaron siendo la principal conexión con los ancestros y la tradición. En la práctica coexistía la autoridad religiosa hereditaria de los Ariki, con la autoridad de los guerreros (los matatoa)."
* Art of the South Seas 1946 p44
"There was a king of the entire island, but his functions seem to have been mainly religious. Most of the ceremonies in which he took part were directed toward increasing fertility and insuring the food supply. There was also a group of learned men who known the ancient chants and directed ceremonies. Real power lay in the hands of famous warriors. These warriors were as competitive and jealous of their reptuations, as the bad men of our Old West and their bickerings kept the clans in constant turmoil."
* Fischer 2005 p80 (describing the early 19thc)
"Behind the peaceful facade of most foreign visits -- for Easter Islanders, fleeting punctuations of entertainment and gain -- lay daily want, with frequent bloodshed and terror. Life was hard and brutish. Time-honoured rituals that had miraculously survived the eighteenth century -- such as 'Orongo's poki manu and poki take coming-of-age-rites -- were now being abandoned. The difficult era generated a wealth of traditions relating of murder and mayhem: not from outsiders, but from one's own neighbors. Th main cause of these troubles was still the marauding paoa, who upheld, and were fomented by, each respective Birdman who was the island's reigning matato'a. The stench of burning huts was Easter Island's most common visitor.
"By now it was the matato'a who were receiving the tuna offerings that in the past had always been the privilege of the 'ariki mau. Many plants were vanishing from the island. This was because the rahui ('periodic and temporary restriction') laid on plants for ecological management had always been the prerogative of the 'ariki mau. Challenged by the matato'a and their thugs, a weak paramount chief failed to maintain the venerable custom. Most Islanders still held their 'ariki mau in highest regard, considering his person to be sacred. But his temporal authority had bone completely. It was the matato'a alone who now 'governed' Easter Island."
* Englert 1970 p140-142
"During these times there appear to have been many battles between kin-groups, which were local and mostly of short duration. There was undoubtedly at least one actual war that lasted a considerable time and had devastating effects. This was fought between groups of the northwest coast and others of the southeast. The principal antagonists, called Poie and Kainga, are well remembered. We can deduce with some accuracy that this war must have occurred between 1771 and 1773, because none of the members of the Gonzalez expedition, which came to the island in 1770, mentions any evidence of conflict or its effects, at least during the few hours they were ashore. However, Captain Cook, who arrived four years later, conveys in his whole account the strong impression that the island had just suffered a serious major conflict. ... During this war between the people of Poie and Kainga, it is said, cannibalism was first practiced on a grand scale. Though this cannibalism undoubtedly had its ritual aspects and served as an insult to the vanquished, many of the traditions suggest that human meat was highly prized as a delicacy among these people who had available so little mammalian flesh. It seems likely that the development of the custom was related, at least in part, to food shortage."
Fischer 2002 p55
"In fact, battlefield 'butchery' appears to have remained minimal. But the consequences of a defeat could be devastating. Victors pursued the vanquished back to caves and rock shelters; defeated warriors often fled to the safety of offshore islets, but children and infirm elders were brutally murdered, it appears. Women and girls were frequently spared, if only tobe given as wives to unmarried warriors. Some defeated tribespeople sought refuge among victorious relations. The menfolk cowering on the islets were not allowed ashore, and lived wretched existences in utter deprivation.
"Perhaps they still fared better than their fallen comrades. At the end of the nineteenth century many Islanders were still recalling stories of cannibalistic meals by triumphant warriors -- always in a secluded spot away from women and children -- whereby defeated enemies of rank were devoured. The skulls of these were then burnt, as a special insult. It should be pointed out, however, that the occurrence of cannibalism on Easter Island is 'entirely narrative, and not archaeological'. Cannibalism is not only unproductive for victors, it is self-defeating. Although rare instances of cannibalism might have occurred on Easter Island -- to be exaggerated by later generations -- it is more probable that nearly all defeated warriors, once caught, were made kio or slaves."
Costume, Tattooing, Jewelry
* Rapa Nui, 110 años 1998 p21
"La mayor parte andaba completamente desnudo, con el cuerpo tatuado. Se puede deducir que daban más importancia a los tocados para la cabeza que a los vestidos. Ambos sexos usaban las mismas prendas: un taparrabos anterior (hamí), taparrabos posterior (kotaki), capa larga (nua), confeccionados con la fibra vegetal (mahute). Usaban sombreros de fibras trenzadas, de forma navicular para las mujeres; variedad de tocados de plumas y vegetales. Collares de conchas, corales y vegetales, adornos pectorales de madera y vegatales, pendientes en las orejas."
* Splendid isolation 2001 p14 (Eric Kjellgren, "Introduction: Remote possibilities" p11-23)
"To mark the social ranks of ariki, matatoa, and other prominent individuals, many forms of Rapa Nui art, as in other Polynesian traditions, are devoted to what has been termed an 'aesthetic of inequality.' High-ranking men and women wore distinctive regalia and wielded attributes of rank to mark their separate and exalted status. These included the bifacial chief's staffs (ua) carried by some male ariki ... and hau kurakura, brightly-colored headdresses made with highly prized red-orange rooster feathers and worn by Rapa Nui warriors."
* Englert 1970 p68
"Beauty was ... enhanced by much body painting and tatooing. Earths of various colors were used. Among the men were some who painted themselves with charcoal. Gonzalez saw men thus painted and remarked that in spite of this they looked more like Europeans than American Indians."
* Campbell 1987 p74-76
"El tatuaje constituía en realidad un vestuario. El clima calido predominante no exigia el uso de ropas pesadas. La mayoría de los aborigenes, hasta la llegada de los misioneros, andaba desnuda. Algunos usaban taparrabos denominados hami, hechos de tela o tapa de mahute, sujetos a la cintura por cordones de fibra de hau-hau o con cuerdas de cabellos humanos trenzados.
"El vestuario de las personas importantes, el llamado nua-mahute, se reservaba para la estación templada y estaba constituido por un gran manto que se colocaba sobre los hombros con las puntas atadas sobre el pecho haciendo un mono o taki.
"En contraste con la escasez de vestidos, habia gran variedad de sombreros y adornos para la cabeza. ...
"La tradición ha conservado el nombre y descripción de los diversos tipos de sombreros antiguos. Los principales eran el ha'u maraki, cucurucho de mahute con plumas de aves; el ha'u pouo, en forma de bote, con extremos levantados, hecho de totora; el ha'u teke-teke o cintillo de plumas largas adelante y cortas atras; el ha'u vaero, de plumas largas de vivos colores; el ha'u kura-kura, que tenía finas plumillas en forma de cintillo frontal; el ha'u tara, con dos largas plumas en la frente, y el ha'u mingo'i, que era una especie de corona de plumas cortas y crespas."
* Mondo 2002 63
"The Polynesian practice of tattooing and body painting seems to have been maintained until the nineteenth century. Men women bore on their skins designs related to their clans, representations of the symbols of their clans or complex geometric drawings. The members of the royal line used to practice perforation and stretching of the ears; in the chronicles of some travelers there were descriptions of some islanders whose long ears 'fell about their shoulders.'"
* Rapa Nui, 110 años 1998 p22
"El arte de tatuaje era practicado por los maori-takona. Para ser tatuado de pies a cabeza, debía comenzarse a los 8 años, el proceso era lento y doloroso y terminaba en la adultez. Los pigmentos sd obtenían de vegetales y tizne y se usaba una especie de peine de hueso de dos o más puntas. Los motivos antropomorfos eran: lineal con cabeza y brazos, signos rongo-rongo con figura de hombre, rostros, komrai (vulva). Los zoomorfos: pájaros e insectos. Los fitomorfos: ramas. Y objetos ceremoniales, motivos geométricos, líneas rectas y curvas, puntos, triángulos, óvalos, cuadrados, círculos."
* Campbell 1987 p76
"Lucian collares hechos con diversas clases de conchillas marinas, especialmente de pure. La figura tradicional era el reimiro, en forma de luna nueva con cabecitas en los extremos. En grabados antiguos aparece tambien como adorno, colgando al cuello, una figura hecha de madera o de piedra llamada tahonga, en forma de huevo o de corazon, con una pequeña cabecita de ave tallada en el extremo superior."
* Rapa Nui, 110 años 1998 p31
"Adornos pectorales son el reimiro, de uso ceremonial, en forma de media luna en cuyos extremos hay rostros labrados; tahonga, pendiente de forma ovoide de gran similitud con el komari, símbolo sexual femenino."
* Mann 1976 p110
"On the night before they went to war, the matatoa were not allowed to sleep. In any case, they may have been too busy to do so -- there were many formalities in the prebattle ritual. Each warrior had to stain his entire body black. Then he sharpened his obsidian spearheads and hid any valuables he might possess ...."
* Rapa Nui, 110 años 1998 p23
"PERFORACION Y ALARGAMIENTO DE LAS OREJAS La data de esta costumbre y su significado son un enigma. La perforación se iniciaba en la niñez a hombres y mujeres, luego se insertaban alternativamente vértebras de peces, trozos circulares de madera o cortezas enrolladas y se adornaban con plumas o conchillas."
* Fischer 2002 p55
"While war raged, huts were burnt and fields were plundered. Famine followed. Chaos alone ruled Easter Island, and this for an entire generation. Earlier a rare item, the mata'a -- large stemmed flakes of volcanic glass, shaped and hafted to form spears, and to handles to produce daggers -- now became the island's most common artifact. (In 1770 the Spaniards marvelled at the grotesque mata'a wounds on several Islanders.) Apparently tens of thousands of these were produced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries."
* Englert 1970 p139
"The weapons used by the islanders in their own conflicts were primitive but deadly. Both traditions and archaeological evidence suggest that some of them at least may have been newly developed at the time of the internal conflicts to meet the problems that arose. One such weapon was the mataa, a large crudely percussion-flaked spearhead with a projecting tang made of the abundantly available obsidian. ... Though obsidian tools of many kinds are found buried in the earlier archaeological deposits, the mataa do not appear there. They seem to have come into use shortly before the arrival of the first Europeans. They were attached to short handles to make the so-called kakau for hand-to-hand combat or to longer shafts to make deadly throwing spears called mataa ko hou. These large blades are described as producing ghastly wounds with their ragged, razor-sharp edges."
* Splendid isolation 2001 p38 (Adrienne L Kaeppler, "Rapa Nui art and aesthetics" p32-41)
" ... Rapa Nui spears, with their obsidian points, were weapons unique in Polynesia. The points, called mata'a, were carefully flaked and hafted to 11/2-to-21/2-meter-long shafts of light wood."
* Flenley & Bahn 2003 p153
"A ... dramatic symptom of violence and strife is the sudden appearance in the late prehistoric period of weapons made of obsidian, a material used previously only for tools. Mataa were large, stemmed flakes used hafted as daggers and as spearheads; the earliest known are two from a layer at Ahu Nau Nau, dating to AD 1220-1420, but they really proliferated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when they became the commonest artefact on the island. Owing to their size, only one or two could be obtained from each slab mined, but the sheer abundance of obsidian available led to no apparent decrease in quality over time, and thousands of mataa were produced .... The Dutch in 1722 had reported that the islanders were all unarmed, but in 1774 Cook's party saw a few clubs and spears -- Forster said that 'some ... had lances or spears made of thin ill-shaped sticks, and pointed with a sharp triangular piece of black glassy lava'. Most weapons must have been kept hidden, however, since in 1786 La Perouse claimed that the islanders were all unarmed. The Spanish visitors of 1770 saw conspicuous evidence of mataa wounds on several natives, and violence was not restricted to men, since Sir Arthur Keith's study of skeletal material from the island revealed traces of violent blows on female skulls."
* Splendid isolation 2001 p38 (Adrienne L. Kaeppler, "Rapa Nui art and aesthetics" p32-41)
"Staffs and short clubs (ua and paoa) served as both weapons and symbols of authority. Adorned with carved Janus-faced heads with eyes of inlaid obsidian and bird bone, they are related in form and function to similar objects from the Marquesas and Aotearoa."
* Meyer 1995 v2 p591 f684/685
"Long staff-cum-war club called ua. It served as much as an emblem of rank and status as a combat weapon. The position of the Janus-style human heads is related to the form of the Marquesan u'u and the Maori taiaha."
Mondo 2002 p130
* Kjellgren 2001 p67
"Perhaps the most enigmatic Rapa Nui images are the moai aringa, in which two human faces are joined at the back to form a single bifacial, or 'Janus-faced' head. Moai aringa images occur on hand clubs (paoa) and the staffs (ua) carried by some male chiefs."
"Long wooden clubs from Easter Island (also known as Rapa Nui) were known as Ua and were symbols of chiefly rank. Wood was extremely scarce on Rapa Nui, and what did grow was generally short and scrubby. Consequently, long straight timbers such as that used to make this weapon were in very short supply (probably imported) and so were afforded great prestige value."
* Englert 1970 p139-140
"Also in use were wooden clubs called paoa. These were short, flat weapons with tapered edges, similar in form to a rather blunt sword or cutlass. Blows were struck with the edges and could easily fracture a skull or break an arm or leg. Those who carried this weapon were called tangata paoa, or simply paoa, a term which seems to have been applied in a general sense of warriors who ranked below the matatoa."
* Meyer 1995 v2 p582
"The Easter Islanders also used a short club of spatulate form which relates to the Maori patu, as well as to archeological examples of similar forms found in early sites on Tahiti."
* Splendid isolation 2001 p38 (Adrienne L Kaeppler, "Rapa Nui art and aesthetics" p32-41)