Wednesday, January 15, 2014

From Pacific Islands: Peabody Museum #7

Let's look at some more maritime-related objects from several Pacific cultures on display at Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. (Earlier posts in this series on the Peabody looked at Baffinland InuitAleut, other Alaskan Eskimo, and Chinook, Coast Salish, et al, other Pacific Northwest exhibits, and a large stitch-planked monohull canoe from the Solomon Islands.)

Maori canoe model
This canoe model from New Zealand was collected prior to 1850. Its origin is probably Maori. The base of the hull appears to be carved from a single log, as would have been the real canoe that it represented. It measures approx. 108" LOA. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Moari canoe model stern decoration
Elaborately carved stern decoration on the Maori canoe model. 
bow decoration on Maori canoe model
Bow decoration on the same model. The carved washstrakes are stitched to the dugout hull, and a black half-round batten is captured by the stitches. On a real canoe, some kind of vegetable fiber and mastic would have been placed beneath the batten to make the seam watertight.
The museum has an impressive display of adzes from various Pacific cultures, most with stone blades. The adze is the primary tool for dugout canoe construction.
stone adze collection
This side-hafted adze from the Carolina Islands has a blade of sea-turtle bone and bindings of twisted coconut fiber.
New Guinea stone adze
This adze from Kirapuno, New Guinea, has a reversible stone blade held in place with nicely woven rattan binding.
Navigational stick chart from Marshall Islands
Navigation chart from the Marshall Islands, made of the midribs of palm leaves, shells, and hibiscus and banana fibers.
Phillipine double outrigger canoe model
Collected prior to 1903, this model Philippine double-outrigger sailing canoe has a squaresail rig, a dugout base and trifurcated ends, with two of the horns at each end turned up sharply. The outrigger floats are attached directly to the straight outrigger booms, placing the floats quite high -- possibly above the load waterline.
Hawaiian double canoe model
The struts on this Hawaiian double canoe model (wa'a kaulua) curve up between the hulls before passing through the washstrakes just above the gunwales of the dugout bases. Naturally-grown, curved timbers were used on real canoes. The curvature raises the struts above some splashing waves.
Hawaiian single outrigger canoe model
The unadorned simplicity of this single-outrigger Hawaiian paddling canoe model clearly identifies it as a workboat for inshore fishing and/or transportation.  
Indonesian canoe model
Whereas the two previous canoe models from Hawaii were representational, this delicately carved canoe-shaped effigy vessel from Indonesia probably had a ceremonial purpose. 
Sandwich Islands bone fishhook
Composite fishhook of bone, fiber and wood. The display card says it's from the "Sandwich Islands": one wonders why the museum chose to use this antiquated name for Hawaii. A leader is bound to the shank of the hook, the bindings tightened by an inserted wooden wedge.


  1. Intrigued by ancient adzes. Modern experiments with bronze adzes fastened in the same way seem to last long enough each session to get some useful work done but I wonder about about the potential frustration experienced by the workers having to refasten, sharpen or replace blades frequently as a way of gaining an insight into the canoe-building experience.

    Paul Johnstone's Sea-Craft of Prehistory has a section on how the massive trees were harvested and converted to canoes.

  2. I've never used an adze of any kind, but my understanding is that stone adzes must be used much less aggressively than any one with a metal blade: less force, and very small amounts of wood removed with each stroke, amounting to mere chips or shavings. That would help preserve the cutting edge and tightness of the bindings, but of course it would also require very much more labor.

  3. In general I am sure you are right Bob. I have just found this interesting work on adzes where a worker is said to have delivered full force blows with his shell adze. As usual "it all depends" on material available and working practices.