Welcome to Tonga and Samoa

Paddle Club (moungalaulau)

Like many Tongan war clubs this paddle club (moungalaulau) is distinguished by fine carving that covers its entire surface. As seen here, the surface was typically divided into rectangular areas, within which common motifs such as zigzags, herringbones, and crosshatching were carved. Before European contact, the Tongan craftsman (tofunga) used a stone adze to shape the club. Then the refined carving of the surface decoration was done with a shark’s tooth lashed to a wood handle. After Captain James Cook’s first visit to Tonga in 1773 nails and iron implements began to replace sharks’ teeth and stone tools and surface decoration became even more extensive and elaborate.

The most common material for Polynesian war clubs was ironwood (Casuarina equisetifolia) (toa in Tongan), a dense hard wood that could deliver powerful blows to the enemy without cracking and was unlikely to break at the shaft under the stress of fighting. That breaking was a concern is indicated by the fact that Tongans had a term, kolu, to mean “a club split or broken in war.”

-Keelin Mone, Class of '07