Welcome to Fiji

The Fijians were reputed to be the most violent and warlike of all Polynesians. Well into the 19th century Fijians engaged in local feuding, civil warfare, and repulsion of invasions from neighboring Tonga and Samoa. A further motive for killing was the need to obtain victims for cannibalism, a complex practice that came to symbolize the perceived ferocity of the Fijian warrior.

Fijians used bows and arrows, thrown spears, slings and stones, and small missile clubs to incapacitate or injure their opponents in battle, but it was heavy two-handed clubs, designed to pierce skulls and shatter bones in hand-to-hand combat and ambush, that actually did the killing. Of all the groups represented in this exhibition, the Fijians developed by far the greatest variety of clubs: in Fijian there are more than sixteen words for different types of club.

Since Fijians were almost continually engaged in fighting, it became a central aspect not only of their cultural beliefs and practices but also their daily lives. Written accounts and drawings by 18th and 19th century European visitors document Fijian men carrying clubs as a part of their regular dress. Instruments of self-preservation, weapons were essential in a climate of constant danger. Male social status was tied to the frequency of violent encounters and a man’s ferocity in battle as well as his number of kills. Fijian culture held that men who never achieved a kill would be doomed to pound excrement with their clubs for all eternity.