Ceremonial Adze

Wood-working tool from the Cook Islands

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

An adze is a wood-working tool. Whereas an axe chops wood across the grain, the adze is used along the grain, to shape the wood.

Before first contact with European sailors, the Polynesian islanders of the Pacific had no metal implements. The stone-headed adze was their most important tool as it enabled them to build their canoes and houses. The hardest, most-prized stone used for the head was black basalt, which was only found on certain volcanic islands and then traded across the Pacific. Grinding a rough chunk of basalt against another rock, to produce the smooth, shaped and polished adze-head seen here, would have taken weeks of work.

However this finely-carved adze was never intended for practical use. The adze was closely associated with Tane, the Polynesian god of Nature who created the trees. The wood-working craftsmen of Mangaia believed that Tane himself had taught them how to lash the stone head to the handle using sennit (coconut fibre) binding. Creating the finest possible adze was seen as a tribute, a worthy symbol of the god in much the same way as European craftsmen of the Middle Ages would do their finest work in a church or cathedral.

Young person's response to this object:

The beauty of the handle shows how important an item this was.
Tom Burke

Activity Idea:

Zoom out of this Google map to see how isolated the Cook Islands are

Document icon Learning article provided by: Whitby Museum | 
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