Welcome to Tonga and Samoa

Billet Club (bovai)

Shaped somewhat like a baseball bat, the pole club was found in Fiji (where it was called bowai), Tonga (bovai) and Samoa (povai). Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa are closely related historically and culturally, but this particular club has several stylistic elements that suggest it is Tongan rather than Fijian or Samoan. First, it is entirely covered with incised carving, in the midst of which are scattered small leaves, turtles and human figures. These naturalistic images are characteristic of the Tongan carving style. They connected the artist (and presumably the user) to ancestral spirits and deities and were a way of seeking blessings in war or intervention in time of need.

Another stylistic element indicating that this pole club is Tongan rather than Fijian or Samoan can be seen at the end of the butt, where there is a pierced lug. Such lugs, which were used to hold the club with a rope, do not occur on Fijian clubs but are common on clubs from Tonga and Samoa. A typical Samoan lug protrudes from the middle of the bottom of the butt but does not extend to the edges. A typical Tongan lug, like the one on this club, extends out to the edges.

-Jessica Gold, Class of '09