Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1886 Samoan toa

Subjecttoa warrior
Culture: Samoan
Setting: Samoa 19thc
Object: clubs




​* Museum of New Zealand / Te Papa Tongarewa online > Nifo'Oti (cane knife)
"The first nifo'oti may have been modelled on cane knives or the blubber knife of early nineteenth century English and American whalers. These knives became a popular weapon in the Samoan civil wars of the mid to late 1800s and can be seen in old photographs from the period.The most common form of nifo'oti was a wooden club carved with long teeth along one side and a single curved hook projecting at the end of the other. In 1927, anthropologist Te Rangi Hiroa considered the wooden nifo'oti a modern development most likely made for show and ceremonial purposes. However, in the United States at the Peabody Museum in Salem, there is an example of a wooden nifo'oti given to the museum in 1821 that points to a much earlier origin."

​* Pitt-Rivers Museum online > Nifo'oti (1899.62.718)
​"Nifo'oti are fascinating weapons. They are entirely unique to Samoa and are considered the 'national weapon'. Unlike the overwhelming majority of Polynesian clubs (New Zealand excepted), which possess a diamond, square or oval head section, or 'bird-headed forms which arch forward, nifo'oti possess an unusual monolinear axial symmetry; the front edge comprises a comb of teeth and the back edge is smooth save for a hook at the end ('nifo'oti' translates as 'tooth at the end'). How, then, did this apparent anomalous and unrelated weapon form arise?
    "In fact, the answer lies thousands of miles away in the greyer and cooler climes of England's 18th and 19th century industrial towns. The production of steel billhooks - large, broad-bladed and curved agricultural tools - were widely traded to the British colonies in the 18th and 19th century. The nifo'oti can be seen as an example of the cultural blurring that occurred in parts of the world after European contact and, more specifically, the highly adaptive nature of Polynesian societies: the innovative combination of tao woodcarving technology and traditional characteristics of Samoan clubs (i.e. the large 'teeth') with a Western template. Many Samoan nifo'oti actually utilised the original metal billhook blade, modifying it by hafting it onto a local handle. .... Nifo'oti, both those with real billhook blades and the wooden facsimiles, were certainly employed as war-clubs but would have primarily been used for their original agricultural purpose."
    "Wooden weapons, such as this one, were often covered in traditional geometric designs, lending them an even more indigenous identity. Indeed, just 20 years after Cook's first visit to the archipelago, his journeying successors were already describing such weapons as 'indigenous forms'. It is interesting to note that the exact same phenomenon of wooden weapons carved to resemble steel tools and weapons of European origin was seen in the Solomon Islands (wooden tomahawks)Tonga, and Niue (wooden sabres and broadswords)."