Nephrite clubs (mere pounamu)

Maori, possibly 18th or 19th century AD
From New Zealand, Polynesia

Maori weapons, and short clubs (mere) in particular, were made in several forms ideal for close range fighting. They were made of stone, wood or whalebone, and could be shaped with a crescent-like profile or in a figure-of-eight form.

The type shown here, spatulate in form and made of nephrite, was the most prestigious. The Maori value nephrite for its strength and its ability to keep a sharp cutting edge, as well as for its beauty. Such clubs were often given personal names, and were regarded as heirlooms. The perforation at the butt end would be for a wrist strap, often a plaited flax fibre cord or a thong.

A warrior would use the club in either hand, wielding it like a cleaver with a slicing motion to strike at an adversary's head or neck. When not in use, the mere was carried tucked into the folds of the man's belt, safe yet always at hand.

The club on the right is unique, being the only known example where the grip does not have a plain finish but is carved into a manaia, a figure or head shown in profile.

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More information

Bibliography

D.C. Starzecka (ed.), Maori art and culture, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)

P.H. Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa), The coming of the Maori (Wellington, Maori Purposes Fund Board, 1982)

Dimensions

Length: 35.500 cm (left)
Length: 35.500 cm (left)
Length: 35.500 cm (left)

Museum number

AOA 9644;AOA 1910.11-6.1;AOA 1907.12-23.1

EOC4686;EOC12827;EOC12513

Left: Gift of A.W. Franks
Centre: Gift of the London Library Committee (Ex Guildhall Museum)
Right: Gift of Sir Charles H. Read

Location

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