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Coconut Stalk Club (ap'apai)

The name of this club, apa’apai in Tongan, translates as “coconut-stalk.” Its shape resembles the stem of a coconut palm leaf, which has a heavy, expanded end where it meets the trunk. Actual coconut stems, trimmed to about four feet in length, were strong enough to serve as clubs in exhibition fights. The hardwood apa’apai club therefore derives not only its shape but also its function from the coconut stalk. This Tongan coconut stalk club is covered with complex geometric patterns. A Samoan example in the next case is plain except for sets of carved chevrons.

On his third voyage to the Pacific, in 1777, Captain James Cook observed an exhibition fight with coconut stalks in Tonga at Ha’apai. He wrote that the event began with two groups of men marching around with coconut stalks in their hands. Then the two groups sat down in front of an audience, settling on opposite sides. One person would challenge another from the opposing group. If the challenge was accepted, the two warriors would battle each other until there was a victory or the coconut stalks broke. The competition was a way for participants to demonstrate their manhood.

-Kali Backer, Class of '07