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Ceremonial adze


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Carved wooden ceremonial adze handle from the Cook Islands

This elaborately carved wooden staff is the handle of a ceremonial adze. The stone adze blade would have protruded from the triangular section bound with sennit cord. This adze is from the Cook Islands, formerly the Hervey Islands, Polynesia, in the South Pacific Ocean. Cook Islands ceremonial adzes are made on the island of Mangaia and often feature the 'double-K' motif that can be seen on this example.

Adzes were useful tools but also had special worth as ceremonial objects. Adzes with large handles such as this one were likely to be purely ceremonial, being too unwieldy to use as tools. The holes in the carvings had important meanings and it was thought that when they were plugged an adze had the power to calm storms. As well as being valued for their cultural importance they were commonly made for tourists and museum collectors, particularly during the nineteenth century.

Museum object number REDMG : 1998.56.403

length 715 mm

See related topic: World Collection: Belief

Information about a ruatangaeo (ceremonial adze) in the collections of Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand.