c1880 Oceania Samoan Nifo'oti Billhook War Club


A rare example of an original Victorian period Samoan Nifo’oti War Club from Oceania.

It consists of a carved piece of wood, round at the handle, but flattened towards the top. The main features are the row of teeth down the attacking edge and a downwards hook at the top of the back edge. The sides of the club have added incised decoration. The club looks like it has seen a lot of hard use and has suffered the loss of several teeth. These tended to break in combat and were proudly seen as a sign of courage and action.

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 are totally different. The first nifo'oti may have been modelled on billhooks, 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 absence of steel meant that the weapon was made wholly out of wood, but mimicking even the billhook. They appear to have existed since at least the 1820s, although this example was probably brought back to Europe during the Samoan Civil War around 1890.

Condition is good for its age and taking into account its battle damage. The is some evidence of worm and fungal damage, but it has been stabilised.

Size: 19 x 5.5 x 99 cm (11 ½ x 2 2/8 x 39 inches)
Weight: 1477 g