Battle Tactics
Bows & Arrows
Sea Fights
War Clubs
Warrior Training



Fiji Coastal View . . . circa 1849

Fiji Islands - South Pacific Ocean

Warfare was a base of Fijian Society
Fighting was literally a 'Way of Life' in old Fiji

"Ships going their I would recommend to go well armed & niver to be of their gard for althow they are a hospitable people yet they are Canables & will take every Advantage from their propensity to stealing, the low class of them in particular. I would recommend never to go on shoar without being armed for though you may be very friendly with those you are trading with yet they are always at war among themselves and those that are their Enomies will be yours"           William Lockerby - Directions for the FeeJee Islands, 1810

Fiji, beginning of the 19th century, few people lived to die of old age, and men, quite literally, never dared to move about unarmed. Distrust and suspicion, fear of attack and murder, these were a part of daily living. The sight of a strange canoe made people uneasy, and women and children would often flee for their lives at the sight of a stranger. Assassination amongst men was always lurking nearby.

Fearing assassination, when meeting in a house around the Kava or Yaqona bowl, men customarily left their weapons just outside the door so that they could relax confident and safe in each others company. But one Tui Nayau was clubbed dead while drinking Yaqona. The assassin had his pole club smuggled into the house by his little daughter wrapped in a fresh unfurled plaintain leaf, the child crying and asking for her father, to gain admittance to the house.

Sneak raids and murderous ambushes were a common and constant threat. If the enemy were taken by surprise, where attackers secretly entered and stormed a town, these stealth attacks could result in quite large scale massacres, with casualty rates entering the scores and even hundreds.

Larger wars or "state wars" between confederated chiefdoms tended to be more openly conducted, war being formally declared with armies marching to attack fortified towns. Larger still, "widespread wars" involving several confederations of tribes or states and covering large land areas, often dragging on for months with thousands of warriors afield. In some wars, battle and especially massacre casualties climbed into the hundreds and on rare occasions into the thousands.

The most serious and destructive conflicts were those between large scale tribal confederations or states under high chiefs who were bitter personal enemies. They involved armies in the thousands of warriors, and resulted in the sacking and depopulating of large land areas and even entire islands. Sometimes these conflicts continued until one of the high rival chiefs was cut down or fled into exile, in which case plotting vengeance and living to fight again when the opportunity offered.

Bau Island City . . . 1855

"Their villages were mostly perched on the most inaccessible peak and precipices. These eyries were skillfully fortified with palisades and galleries for sharpshooters, which, with their well chosen strategic position, rendered some of them traditionally impregnable, and until the introduction of European firearms of precision . . . . they were never taken. I have seen fortified places on a plain so surrounded by moats, where the mud was armed with stakes and split bamboos, and so encompassed with clay ramparts and stout palisades, line within line, that the very taking of them in purely native warfare was a very tedious or very fatal undertaking. I saw one village, called Waini-makutu, where the stream had been most ingeniously diverted into the circular moat, in which it was swirling round the town on its onward progress, and thus forming a perpetual defense of the people. An officer of the English army, who had taken some of these forts of the hillmen, expressed to me his surprise at the skill and science of engineering they displayed. Covered galleries and lanes, and curious platforms for sentinels and marksmen, were also features of these works." - Reverend A. J. Webb . . . 1890.

By no means were all Fijian forts circular and ditched. Forts in more rugged country took every advantage of the difficult terrain. They were built along razor back ridges and on cliffed and virtually unscalable crags with formidable natural defenses. Some such positions so strong that a handful of determined men could defy an attacking host.

On even the strongest such natural fortifications however, the defenses were strengthened by scarping or digging out natural slopes to steepen them, and the excavating of war-ditches across ridges, and building artificial defensive terraces. The terraces fronted by fighting fences on steep slopes. Also, the erection of earthen banks, loopholed loose stone walls and fighting fences at weak points.To take the forts required the storming of barricade after barricade and running into ambuscade after ambuscade.

Among other hazards to be faced when assaulting hill forts were the big rocks and boulders which the defenders dropped and rolled down on their assailants. Sometimes these were lashed in strategic positions with vines, the defenders only having to slash the vines to send the boulders crashing down on their enemies.
Unpleasant obstacles about Fijian fortifications were the pitfall man traps called Lovosa, which incapacitated or killed a warrior. These were set in both gentle and rugged country along paths and approaches the enemy was likely to traverse, and in gardens he would plunder. When a retreat was anticipated they would set the in the fort itself, as a parting surprise for the enemy.

The Lovosa pit fall trap was typically a small hole dug, in the bottom of which were planted one or more upward pointing hardwood spikes or skewers of split bamboo, called Soki. The mouth of the pit was camouflaged twigs covered with turf, leaves or grass.

Larger and deeper Lovosa into which men fell headlong to impale themselves on the stakes they contained were also used, but to a lesser extent.

As defenders retreated into the fort, in order to render the forcing of the gate more dangerous, the Fijians employed calthrops consisting of a variety of small sharp spikes called Soki, which were stuck upright in the ground. These Soki were baked and hardened, and then poisoned. The Soki were usually slivers of split bamboo or sharp hardwood spikes, or the barbed tail spike of the stingray, also broken glass, were all used. Each Soki was cut or charred part way through where it protruded from the earth to encourage it to break off in the foot.

The Soki were also placed in the narrow stream channels leading through Mangrove swamps to hinder the enemy, wound his scouts and generally delay his advance.

Fijian Fortifications Diagram

"These are the days of education, and in their way the Feejeens are on the alert: they rub human flesh over the lips of their children, and put a portion into the infant's mouth, that it may be nourished by its juice and trained in the practice of cannibalism!"
Reverend Walter Lawry . . . 1850

Fijian children grew up against a violent and bloody background. They grew up in a land where killing was glorified and common place. They received ample psychological and physical training to take their places in a society geared towards warfare. War, with its bloodshed, cannibalism, and violent Gods was a natural state for them from infancy onwards. Their histories and legends extolled the martial deeds of their heroic warrior forefathers.

Children's games naturally reflected the society they grew up in and often centered on war and cannibalism. Quote Reverend John Hunt . . . 1858, "It is particularly painful to see them acting a cannibal feast. One of them will feign himself dead, and the others carry him about, singing the cannibal song."

Children orphaned by war or murder were encouraged to nurture vengeance, being disparagingly known as 'the children of the dead' until they grew up and paid back their parents deaths in blood.

Children practiced on each other with bows and arrows of cane without hardwood points, but instead a cushion of "Tapa". Through such games and more formal training by their fathers, boys became skilled in the various Fijian weapons, and in the equally important art of dodging the clubs, spears and arrows of the enemy.

Rough mock battles (particularly fights with Vudi stalk coconut frond midrib clubs) continued until manhood. The youths of a town often challenging their visitors or neighbors to such competitions, which were known to end in lost tempers and broken limbs.

More realistic training occurred on the battlefield. Boys accompanied the army to carry extra weapons for the warriors and to help in dispatching the helpless enemy wounded, as well as mutilating the dead.

When a large number of enemy children were captured, they were sometimes brought home alive so that the boys of the victorious tribe could have some live practice, shooting them, spearing them with their scaled down weapons or clubbing them to death.

The Fijian warrior did not rely on a shield or armor, but depended rather on his well developed agility and alertness. Games taught accuracy in throwing and an agility in dodging, applicable to the throwing club or the spear. In one game teams of men or boys, supplied with citrus fruit, stood one to one at 20 meters both throwing and dodging until a hit signified a kill. This until one side was wiped out.

Bushcraft and further accuracy were learned on pig hunting excursions with their fathers and on their own hunting. The Fijian warrior absorbed in his youth the stealth and bushcraft which were to serve him well as a warrior in later life, using ambushes as his specialty. The warrior had to be alert, for example, to the harsh alarm squawks and rattles of the large Parrots, which might indicate hidden human presence in the bush nearby. Then again, noisy and static presence of a number of these birds about the track ahead almost certainly indicated an ambush party was lurking in the undergrowth.

A tally of kills made with a war club was often kept by means of nicks or notches on the head or handle, or by boring small holes in the shaft, another common method being to inlay a tooth from each victim in the club's head.

In Fiji, a youth could only obtain true warriors status by killing an enemy with a war club as distinct from all other weapons. A coward whose club was still unstained with blood at the time of his death was doomed to pound human excrement with his dishonored weapon in Balu, the afterworld, onward into eternity.

Particularly bold and stealthy were the Lone Warriors known as "Bati Kadi"
Translated  'The Teeth of the Black Ant'

Those who infiltrated the enemy line by night to silently slay
both sleeping foes and drowsy sentinels

Fijian War

Fijian war could be extremely deadly. In addition to the massive wound trauma inflicted from the weapons, the Fijians used vegetable poisons on their arrows.

"There are many independent towns, and especially in the interior, of which nothing more than their names is known by the people on the coast."
Reverend John Hunt . . . 1858

Many remote and particularly violent hill tribes of the larger islands were laws unto themselves, with the bolder tribes raiding almost at will then retreating into their mountain fortresses, where none dared pursue.

"In native fighting, fences were thrown up by the attacking party, starting at long distances from the village to be attacked and making slight advances and fresh fences at intervals of days or weeks. In some cases it might be months before any actual assault was made. The attacking party might return home, neither party having come into close conflict. Numbers of people were at times slain by parties out for food or skirmishing round. In all fighting the attacking side ravaged the country for food belonging to the enemy, and according to the quantities of food, so the duration of a fight might be determined." - Georgius Wright . . . 1916

As an attacking army advanced on their fortifications, the defenders usually ventured out long distances to obstruct them, skirmishing, ambushing and, if unsuccessful in stemming their advance, gradually falling back on the defensive works.

Both sides sent out scouts far ahead of the main body to ascertain enemy strength and movement, while friendly chiefs secretly passed on military information.

Colo Highland Warriors

Each contingent of allies camped separately in its own individual field encampments, under the command of hereditary chiefs.

In attacks on strongly fortified positions individual warriors made use of all available cover as they came within effective sling, bow or musket shot range. The battle usually initially consisting of back and forth sniping at extreme range. The defenders would pour out showers of arrows, sling stones, spears and musket balls, with the women and children joining in with bows and arrows. The defenders frequently sallied out on the offensive, often sending the attackers running for their lives. Back and forth chases were typical of these sallies and counter attacks, the fighting splintering into a series of single combats with the warriors hewing at each other with clubs and battle axes.

Sometimes, however, two large groups of warriors clashed head-on at close quarters and heavy casualties were caused in a few minutes of vicious hand to hand fighting with clubs, spears, battle axes, throwing clubs and clubbed muskets, with warriors on the outskirts sniping into the melee with bow, sling or musket. Some of these hand to hand fights were savage to the extreme, and over the din of shell battle trumpets, shrieks, musket shots, clash of club on club, and crunch of club on bone, rose the war cry of the warriors as they killed. Each clan having its own distinctive local killing war chant.

The classic Fijian ambush tactic on a grand scale was the Cuka-ni-valu, translated 'the fishing net of war'. In short, ambush by encirclement.  The ambushing force hid in the bush in a large U, about a track likely to be used by the enemy.

The battle line forming the base of the U lying across the path, while the wings of the U lay some distance back, paralleling the path on either side. Ideally, the enemy column marched unsuspectingly into the open end of the U, and ran up against the battle line forming its base, which engaged it as the two flanking wings rushed down on either side with their ends closing in to cut off the enemy column as it retreated.

Viti Levu Highlands . . . circa 1881

In war, it was always the duty of the women, assisted by the stoutest of the boys, to feed the warriors. They supplied all the delicacies of the sea coast including fish, cockles, native lobsters, coconut and taro puddings, etc., and they willingly and cheerfully endured the hardships of the campaign.

The women also played a useful support role in the actual fighting sometimes. They assisted by stationing themselves on prominent hills and calling down information on the enemy movements, to their warriors and sometimes luring the enemy into an ambush. Like the boys, the women finished off enemy wounded.

If a town was taken by force or an army routed afield, the survivors fled for their lives in panic, with the enemy in full homicidal pursuit.

Fijian Outrigger Sailing Canoe

Warfare at Sea

Invading Fijian armies often traveled long distances to wage war, being transported from island to island by canoe. A fleet of war canoes and the warriors transported by it were known as a "Bola", the Fijian term for a hundred canoes.

Small and quite large scale sea battles were commonly fought. Some of these sea battles involved large vessels big enough to be regarded as full blown naval engagements. Most numerous, however, were murderous incidents involving small canoes in petty warfare.

In the ambush tactic known as "Waqa-ubi" warriors lay hidden in a canoe, which was allowed to drift ashore as if derelict, and then they sprang out to attack their enemies, who were coming down to secure the craft.

The huge, plank built, double-hulled "Drua", some of which exceeded thirty meters in length, were capable of carrying large contingents of warriors, in addition to their sailor crews, with the largest Drua carrying in excess of 250 passengers on deck.

Fijian Double Outrigger Canoe

The huge, plank built "Camakau" outriggers could also transport large numbers, as could the larger of the "Tabilai" fighting canoes, which were either double-hulled like Drua, or had a single hull and an outrigger like Camakau, the ends of the hulls having been modified by being thinned down, with a meter and more of solid wood left at each end to allow for more effective ramming.

The basic battle tactics were to run down and attempt to ram an enemy canoe amidships to sink or disable her, the warriors in the latter case boarding to fight hand to hand. Another tactic was to maneuver to windward of the outrigger hull of the enemy canoe and try to cut through the rigging, dropping her heavy sail and yards crashing onto her crew and warriors, entangling and engulfing them, whereon the attacking warriors boarded to club, spear and shoot them through the sail.

As the enemy canoes drew near each other they exchanged showers of arrows, sling stones, spears, bullets and occasional cannon balls.
The warriors next boarding as they closed to fight with spears and clubs in a fierce melee, which often ended in the wiping out of one of the crews, unless they were able to swim ashore or to a friendly canoe. Survivors were mercilessly shot and speared in the water as they swam for their lives.

Cannon were widely used aboard large canoes in running fights and to bombard shore positions. The Drua and other large canoes were engaged and even taken by attacking swarms of smaller canoes.

Fijian Drua

There were a myriad of Gods in old Fiji - for every locality had their own Gods
One of the better known War Gods was "Cagawalu the Great" of Bau
Cagawalu stood ten fathoms tall!

The War Gods sanctioned and demanded both war and human sacrifices for religious purposes!

Fijian religion was inextricably mixed with war and cannibalism. It developed over hundreds and possibly thousands of years of warfare and was admirably suited to the needs of a martial society. Like many other religions it was a major cause of bloodshed.

Quote the Reverend John Hunt, 1858, ". . . . it must be lamented that their worst crimes are sanctioned, and are continually promoted, by their divinities, who are not only cannibals and adulterers like themselves, but have pleasure in those that are such."

Fijian Temple

Hatred was carefully nursed and kept smoldering in songs and prayers and by personal sacrifice, so that when the opportunity for vengeance came, the Fijians were quick to seize it. Revenge did not stop with the killing of the enemy, but was, along with religion, principle forces behind Fijian cannibalism.

Before embarking on a raid or war the Fijians conducted religious ceremonies, and consulted the Gods in an attempt to insure success in the campaign, and in some cases, to render the warriors invulnerable to the weapons of their enemies.

"God Houses" or Bure Kalou had interiors that often resembled armories, with rows and bundles of spears stacked in the rafters, and muskets, bows and arrows, war clubs, and throwing clubs hung about the walls. All weaponry coated glossy black with the soot from the fire kept constantly smoldering, and often eerily festooned with cobwebs.

Cannibal Temple Bau Fiji

Some of these weapons had been presented as offerings made to the Gods when consulting them through the medium of the Priests, or they were weapons of deeper religious significance, having killed enemies and been presented to the War God to ensure his protection against enemy weapons in the future. For instance, a warrior might present a spear with which he had killed, and so gain the War God's protection from the spears of his foes.

The weapons stored in Bure Kalou seem generally to have been regarded as Ka-tabu or sacred objects that ordinary people did not handle, and thus they hung untouched for year upon year. But some spears from Bure Kalou were used in combat. These were more prized the older they get. Glazed with smoke and dirt, and consecrated by the War God, wounds from these spears are certainly fatal, while the same kind of wound from a new spear or one kept by it's owner, will heal.

For at least several days before a fight the warriors usually abstained from sexual relations in an attempt to insure the success of the expedition. Religious ceremonies were conducted under the direction of a priest to make the warriors "Vodi" or invulnerable.

"Cannibalism among this people is one of their institutions; it is interwoven in the elements of society; it forms one of their pursuits, and is regarded by the mass as a refinement."
Reverend Thomas Williams . . . 1884

Sanctioned and indeed demanded by Fijian religion, cannibalism allowed revenge and vindictiveness to be carried past an enemies death. Some of the principal chiefs and priests of Fiji were fond of human flesh to the point of addiction, but in being so were serving their religion and society.

If the war or raid had been particularly successful, Manumanu-ni-laca consisting of living or dead enemy children swung in baskets or by their heels from the sail yards of the canoes as victory banners. Nearing home shore, to broadcast that they had killed, long poles repeatedly splashed the water, and the warriors singing and dancing the "Cibi", Death Dance, while the Lali slit drums thundered out the "Derua" Death Beat.

At the outskirts of town came the lewd Dele or Wate dance by the women, who, appearing naked in public upon this occasion, and bringing into the open and heightening the tensions of the sexual undertones, which keep cropping up in Fijian warfare. Erskine . . . 1853, describes for us, "I saw that their animosity was so great, that they did not consider the enemies being killed and eaten sufficient to gratify their revenge, without deriding and degrading them as it were, after death, which the young girls were doing in a lewd kind of dance, touching the bodies in certain nameless parts with sticks as they were lying in a state of nudity, accompanying the action with words of the song. I found out afterwards that the opposite sex were always selected for the purpose of making the disgraceful end of their enemies notorious."

Before the Temple the warriors flung the bodies at the feet of the principal chief and reported their exploits. The chief thanked them and ordered the priests to present the bodies to the War God. Having been offered to the War God, the heads of the bodies were shattered against the Vatu-ni-mena-mona, the "Braining Stone" column set upright in the ground outside the Temple, thereby sacrificing the brain to the appetite of the God of War.
Feelings ran high while the flesh was slowly cooking, the warriors doing their Death Dance, the women the lewd Wate, until the tension was broken in a frenzied sexual orgy. Normal social restrictions broke down for the night. Women were copulating with warrior after warrior in a scene the European eyewitnesses could only hint at, although stressing its licentious nature.

An anonymous European beachcomber relates witnessing a particularly wild orgy in 1809, "That night was spent in eating and drinking and obscenity the blood drank and the flesh eating seemed to have a maddening effect on the warriors. I had often seen men killed and eaten but I never heard or saw such a night as that. Next morning many of the poor women were unable to move from the continuous connections of the maddened warriors."

Armies and war parties in the field generally ate the flesh of enemy bodies or Bokola, as bodies destined for the oven were called. With a minimum of ceremony and ritual, the mutilated corpses were cut up, wrapped in Vudi plantain leaves, and cooked in pit ovens or Lovo.

Concerning one of the great Viti Levu cannibal chiefs, circa 1827, William Mariner said, "He was not in the habit of sacrificing his prisoners immediately, (finding them perhaps too tough for his delicate stomach), but of actually ordering them to be operated on, and put in such a state as to get both fat and tender, afterwards to be killed as he might want them.

Fijian Warriors . . . carrying Victim

A tally of kills made with a war club was often kept by
Nicks or notches on the head or handle
Boring small holes in the shaft
Another common method being
Inlay a tooth from each victim into the clubs head

The Pacific is the tribal club center of the world and there is a  good and practical reason for this. Hardwood trees were abundant in most of the Pacific, while iron was virtually non-existent before the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

A Fijian war club was the most cherished weapon of the Fijian warrior. It was designed and made for specific purposes and there are approximately thirty distinct and diverse types of native weapons used by the Fijians.

A club used to kill many enemies was believed to have a life power of its own or Mana. A Fijian War club with large amounts of Mana were sometimes placed in a temple to the gods of war, and became ritual objects in funerary rites and certain craft ceremonies.

Clubs are aggressive, one-on-one offensive weapons requiring skill, strength, speed and agility, and this fits both the Polynesian idea of waging war and their concept of individual worth. In Polynesia, war was an activity fought between groups, but waged by individuals, each seeking to prove his personal prowess. As a result, the competition for fame and Mana (personal charisma and power) within the Polynesian warrior class was intense. It was quite a common, for example, for Maori war leaders to fight one on one duels as proxies for their armies, and there were complex rules for these jousts.

In fact, the Polynesians had elevated club fighting to an art form, and young boys in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and New Zealand spent hours mastering the arm, body and foot moves necessary to use various types of club effectively – skills their lives would depend on.

Of all the Polynesian people, the Fijians were the most prolific club makers. They had perfected the art of growing clubs by tying young

branches at right angles to the trunk so that they could be harvested as L-shaped billets with a short, thick arm to form the head of a club. They also delighted in producing many different types, often with a specific function in mind. The totokia, for example,  had a long point at the end of the head which could be used to neatly pierce a hole in an opponent’s skull once he had been felled by the broad side.

Each Polynesian culture had its own favored style of warfare and produced the clubs required to execute it. The Fijians were experts at all types of club warfare, and are well known for  long clubs whose heads had sharp edges – real bone breakers – but they are perhaps best known for the short ulla or round headed throwing club. Each Fijian warrior would go into the fight with three or four tucked into his belt.

Some clubs had a very bloody career before being hung, much notched, in the Temple of the God of War, those of great warriors being of as notorious repute, and as widely feared, as the masters who wielded them.

Broken bones were a common occurrence in club fighting, and were effectively splinted when not too badly shattered. Crushed fingers, an occupational hazard of the club fighter, simply were amputated on the spot by the injured man, using a kai shell.

Fijian Hardwood War Clubs

I Tuki - Battle Hammers (Skull Crushers)
Buried with Chiefs or Great Warriors
Borne by the Ghost for the hazardous journey to Balu . . . the Afterlife

I Kolo - Throwing Clubs
Hurled with Great Precision
Favorite Implement of Assassination

Fijian Hardwood "Totokia" Beaked Battle Hammer

Like other Fijian weapons
Spears were made within strictly formal, traditional types, and categories

One particularly horrible spear variety
Made of a wood which swelled and splintered when wet
Bursting within the bloody wound


"Of Fijian spears or javelins there is a great variety, having from one to four points, and showing a round, square or semi-circular section. Some are armed with the thorns of the stingray, some are barbed, and some formed of a wood which bursts when moist so that it can scarcely be extracted from a wound. They are deadly weapons, generally of heavy wood, and from ten to fifteen feet long. One variety is significantly called 'The Priest is too Late'." - Reverend Thomas Williams . . .1884
Throwing spears or Moto were major Fijian fighting weapons, ranging in length from 1.5 to over 4 meters, most being at least 3 meters long. They were used in high numbers until the end of traditional Fijian warfare, though they gradually became scarcer as the musket became more and more common on the battlefield.
All Fijian spears other than Saisai, can generally be said to have been made of a single length of wood, with the head and barbs carved from the shaft.

The multi-pronged Saisai was unique among Fijian spears in that it was made up of several pieces of wood, three or four long prongs. The heavy Saisai were designed and used for war. To render them more dangerous each prong of the Saisai was commonly tipped with a single stingray tail spike. This spear was much used by chiefs. Similar, lighter spear tips were used for fishing and were called by the same name.

Timbers used for the more elaborately barbed spears included a variety of hardwoods, but principally Sacau or Bulu (Palaqutum hornei), a dense, heavy wood which was soaked in water prior to carving, and indeed could be stored underwater for many years without rotting. Other utilized hardwood trees included, Vesi or Greenheart (Intsia bijuga), Bau (Pittosporum brackenridgei), Makita (Parinarium laurinum), and Vesivesi (Pongamia pinnata). In addition to these, a variety of palm woods were commonly used for plainer javelins, including the Balaka (Balaka seemanni). These palm wood spears are easily recognized by the black and brown stripes running down their shafts.

The heads of the spears were generally round in section, inflicting a puncturing rather than a cutting wound. The lack of sharp cutting edges to the head meant the spear was unlikely to induce instant and shocking massive bleeding unless it hit a major organ or blood vessel. Since the spears could not be relied upon to take instant effect it was desirable to make their extraction from the wound more difficult. Therefore, the spears had heavy, exaggerated barbing of the spearheads. Extraction of the spear from a body wound by pulling back on it was a virtual impossibility without a major surgical operation.

In addition to these wooden barbs, the Fijians commonly tipped their spearheads with a circlet of barbed stingray tail spikes or Voto-ni-vai.

Fijian Spear Tips - Voto-Ni-Vai (centimeters)

They penetrated the wound as part of the spearhead but flared out and remained within even relatively shallow wounds, sliding off the spearhead as the weapon was withdrawn. The points were obtained from the tails of stingrays, which are armed on the upper surface towards the base with one or more large bony and serrated spikes, which can cause painful and dangerous wounds. The points broken off in the wounds, the barbs require surgery to remove them safely. These stingray tail spikes were in great demand as spear and arrow points.

Stingray Tail Spike - Arrow and Spear Points

According to A. H. Ogilvie . . .1924, "the Voto-ni-vai or thorn of the skate . . . . was a splendid assassin's dagger, and the man who had that thrust into his neck or abdomen while asleep would be very unlikely to recover."

The Fijian spear was mostly thrown from the unaided hand of the warrior. But sometimes throwing cords and throwing sticks were utilized to propel the fighting spears over longer distances. The knotted end of the cord was wound once round the spear shaft, the cord passing over the knotted end so that while it was kept tight it gripped the shaft without having to be tied, but fell loose if the string was allowed to slacken. The length of the cord lay along the spear shaft, its looped end being placed over the index finger of the throwing hand.When the spear was thrown the looped end of the cord remained attached to the index finger, the knotted end automatically whipping free from the spear shaft after the spear left the hand. The cord thus lengthened the throwing arm, and gave the spear a revolving motion like that of a rifle bullet. This greatly increased range and velocity.

Fijian spears were also held for stabbing and thrusting as circumstances warranted.

As the opposing forces closed to within twenty meters and less, the spearmen poised and quivered their spears ominously in an attempt to paralyze their foes, then suddenly hurling them with great force and accuracy, and men skillfully dodging them at the last moment.

Spears were of great value in defensive warfare, being hurled out onto exposed attackers from behind fighting fences and from the gate platforms.

Spears were often used as incendiaries by attackers. Pieces of barkcloth or dry grass were to their points and ignited. The flaming missiles were then hurled over the fighting fence to land among thatched roofs within, setting them ablaze.

Warriors usually carried a war club or battle-axe in addition to a bundle of spears. It was traditional to rush in and and club a man after he fell from a spear, as there was more credit and status pertaining to a war club.

As with the war clubs the various Fijian fighting spears figured prominently in dance and ceremony, as well as on the battlefield. They also had a religious role in the construction of Temples, Bure Kalou. Spears were decorated for dance and ceremony. The heads and barbed sections of the spears were often gaily painted with red, white, yellow or blue paint. Brightly colored Parrot feathers were tied in little puffs to the spearheads.

During the nineteenth century bayonets and crude iron spearheads made by ship's blacksmiths were commonly used as points on the traditionally wooden headed fighting spears.

Fijian Spear Types (Sokilaki, Sirusiru, Se-ne-nui, Kaka)

Extreme examples of the Sokilaki type spear (First 4 Spears)
Sirusiru the barbs of which point both forward and backward to make extraction from a wound more difficult (Next 2 Spears)
Se-ni-nui - literally "the coconut flower", a rare form (7th Spear)
Kaka was a common type, characterized by its heavy, hooked barbs (8th Spear)

Fijian Spears (Tavevatu)

Unknown types for first three spears.
Tavevatu - A common spear type. It is characterized by the series of cones beneath the barbs, but more particularly by its head, which is of quadrangular or diamond shaped cross-section, not round in cross section like the heads of the other spear types.

Fijian Sokilaki Spears

Sokilaki - Showing the range in type of these multibarbed fighting spears.

The bow or Dakai was a major Fijian fighting weapon before it was gradually replaced by the musket. Fijian bows were widely used for hunting, fishing and war. Typically between 1.5 to 2 meters in length, most war bow staffs had a groove running down much of the length of the inside or belly of the bow. Fijian bows were either straight staffs, plain bows or reflex.

Bows were used in both land and sea fights, battle usually commencing with a shower of arrows and sling stones in pre-musket warfare. Bows were used by women and children to defend their town from behind its fighting fence. Bows were of particular value in attacking and defending fortifications, in ambush, and in bringing down fleeing enemies. Fire arrows were used to burn a town into submission.

In Fiji, the usual method of bow making was to split a naturally curving Mangrove root or branch lengthways, and to use the two strips so obtained to make two bows, unless one half was rejected by the craftsman. The groove on the belly of Fijian bows is caused by the cleaning out of the sapwood or tube of pulpy pith which runs down the middle of the Mangrove root, because in many cases the root was not split dead centrally. The root strip was roughed out with a adze, the sap groove cleaned out, and the stave scraped smooth with bivalve shell scrappers. Ash was then rubbed into the wood of the staff and it was smoked and oiled. The bow string was plaited in a two or three string strand from the inner bark of the wild hibiscus, other barks occasionally were used.

Bows were generally stored unstrung, only being strung when it became necessary to shoot them.

Fijian reed war arrows were usually just over a meter long, into one end of which was inserted a hardwood spike, usually slivers of Mangrove or other hard woods, with or without a small stingray tail-spike point to make extraction from the wound more difficult, or were heavily barbed along one side, the backward raking barbs being thinned down where they rose from the shaft of the arrowhead so they snapped off readily within the wound. Unbarbed arrowheads had a thin fish bone inserted on either side, just behind the tip, pointing backwards and almost flush with the shaft so that they would not snap off while penetrating the body, but would effectively prevent the arrow from being pulled back out of the wound.


The bow took a more deadly toll days and even weeks after the conflict, as barbed arrow heads in the body could only be removed by surgery, while punctured lungs and guts led to lingering deaths. The Fijians were well aware of the absolute necessity of removing all particles of an arrow or spear from a wound, and knew full well that the dreaded lockjaw or tetanus was most likely to arise from the deep puncture wounds inflicted by their arrows. The Fijians developed sophisticated surgery to deal with combat wounds caused by arrows and barbed spears.

In an attempt to increase the potency of their arrows, the Fijians sometimes coated their arrowheads with vegetable poisons, the most widely known of which was the gum of the Mavu-ni-toga Tree (Antiaris toxicaria), a rare tree in Fiji, and one specially cultivated in temple compounds.

Fijian Sling

Early accounts by traders and beachcombers show that battle usually opened with volleys of sling stones and arrows before the warriors closed to fight at close quarters with spears and clubs. Clubmen were also armed with slings, as the sling was particularly handy providing warriors with an effective missile weapon which when not needed could simply be tied round the waist or upper arm, not impeding the use of the war club in any way.

The strings of the sling were plaited from the inner bark of wild Hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus), and in rare cases from human hair. Fine twine from the Wa Yaka Vine (Pueraria lobata) was used to cover and bind together the several parallel coir-sinnet cords which made up the basket or stone pouch of the sling. The two throwing strings which ran up from either end of the basket, one ending in a finger loop and the other in a knot, were each generally some 60 to 70 centimeters long.

In using the sling the finger loop was placed over the middle finger of the throwing hand, the knot of the other cord being grasped between the thumb and index finger, and the stone placed in the basket. The slinger swung the sling round once above his head than snapped out his arm and released the knotted cord, the sling jerking out to its full extent, sending the stone towards its target.

Hibiscus tiliaceus

Antiaris toxicaria

During the nineteenth century heavy axes, hatchets, knives and swords of various form were introduced to Fiji by European traders and many were absorbed into the Fijian armory.

Fijian Battle Axes

Swords - The swords, mainly sabers and cutlasses saw only limited use by Fijian warriors. The unpopularity of these weapons can be attributed to the stroke and grip of the weapon being quite unfamiliar to the Fijian warrior. An awkward weapon to the Fijians, the sword had little advantage over the two-handed war club.

Knives - The warriors liked the long bladed butchers knives better and used them frequently in close quarters melee fighting. With the razor sharp sheath knife a warrior could step inside the two-handed swing of a clubman, unused to such a technique, and plunge your knife through the vitals.

Tomahawks - Tomahawks were popular with Fijian warriors, but the lighter hatchets were less so, because they felt too light and flimsy for warriors accustomed to swinging hefty Fijian war clubs.

Battle Axes - It was the heavy broad blade battle axes that were the most popular European weaponry introduced to Fiji. This was probably because they were used in the same manner as a two-handed war club. The tomahawk and battle axe heads were fitted by the Fijians with their own round sectioned hard wood handles, which were carved with a zig zag grip and multi-colored binding, as was the case with their war clubs. By the mid 1870's, the axe was replacing the Fijian war club as a close quarter weapon.

An American ship, hired to bombard the Fiji Island of Bau, calmly anchored offshore and fired a broadside into the town. But the local beachcombers, white residents of Bau at the time, prepared a response. A large cannon was brought to bear on the ship. The second shot struck the jib-boom and the captain fearing he might be disabled slipped anchor and sailed out.
Cannon fire was among the first gunfire the Fijians were subjected to and its reputation spread rapidly.

Brass and iron barreled, muzzle loading, smooth bored cannon, were used by the Fijians to a limited degree in their nineteenth century wars. These cannons ranged in type and calibre from light Pivot Blunder Busses and Swivel Guns (originally mounted aboard ships as anti-personnel weapons), and up to three and four pounder cannons mounted on wooden, small wheeled naval truck carriages, some of which were inlaid with bone, in the same fashion as war clubs.

Swivel Gun

The projectiles used in cannons in Fijian warfare were generally based on conventional European naval projectiles of the time. At long range against buildings, earthworks or large canoes, a single heavy cast iron ball or round shot was loaded. The Fijians, and beachcombers frugally employed lighter, less effective, rounded river stones when proper cannon balls were in short supply, which was usual.

Case or Scatter Shot was used at closer ranges against bamboo and reed fighting fences, canoes and massed groups of warriors, the cannon acting like a gigantic shotgun. Scatter shot consisted of grapeshot (tubular canvas bag filled with several tiers of iron balls or musket balls), which was rammed home over the cartridge, in place of the round shot. These scatter shot loads were devastating against canoe crews or groups of warriors, from close range to out to well over 200 meters, depending on the gun.

Also used was Canister, which consisted of a tin can or cylinder filled with musket balls. Langrage was a canister filled with irregular pieces of iron to bring down rigging and sails.

Swivel Gun Frontal View

With canister, grapeshot and langrage the containers burst on leaving the muzzle, spewing forth a metallic and rapidly spreading hail of small ball, each perfectly capable of killing or maiming.

It was common practice to double shot the guns, meaning to ram in two loads of grape or canister, or a load of scatter shot with a round shot together, to render them more effective.

Most merchant ships trading in the islands in the first half of the nineteenth century carried a defensive armament of cannon, and nearly all the cannons used in Fiji were obtained from shipwrecks or traded from the captains of foreign vessels.

Due to their weight, cannons were largely confined to fortifications and siege warfare in less rugged terrain, mostly near the coast or along navigable rivers. Only a few were transported further inland.

Colt .44 Caliber Army Model . . . circa 1860

In early 1800 the American schooner "Argo" was wrecked on the Bukatatanoa Reef in the extreme southeast of Fiji. The Argo brought to the islands the first of a series of foreign diseases, which were to decimate the Fijian people, and introduced the flintlock musket to the region.

It was the sandalwood merchant ships that acquainted the Fijians with firarms. First encounters scared off Fijian war canoes. But by 1808, the sandalwood cargo ships captains were finding it profitable to help the local chiefs in their wars. Their crews, with musket and cannon, fought as mercenaries with the allied natives, in return for bigger and more easily obtained cargoes.

US M1816 Flintlock Musket

Another source of firearm education were the "Beachcombers". Lured by the chance of an easy, lawless life, with multiple wives, and perhaps more specifically, the treasure hunt for the thousands of silver pillar dollars wrecked with the brig "Eliza" off Nairai, in 1808, came motley bunches of shipwrecked sailors, escaped convicts, and ship deserters. They formed small beachcomber communities under the protection of some of the major chiefs. They went native and dressed like the Fijians and "followed the customs of the aboriginals" so as not to be too conspicuous a target in a fight, and so certainly be killed.

The largest and most violent band established itself on Bau Island, which by virtue of its canoe fleets and maritime strength held sway over scattered parts of Fiji. The most notorious and able of this assortment of multiracial adventurers was one Charles Savage, a survivor of the Eliza wreck. Another was Paddy Connor, an Irish rogue and lying escaped convict, who survived on the islands more than thirty years.

Pepperbox Revolver

At first muskets and other firearms were only in the hands of these ragged mercenaries and the crews of trading ships. For twenty years few but foreigners and the chiefs of larger coastal powers had the opportunity or dared to use them. Up to about 1830 the musket was still a novelty over much of Fiji. But its fearsome reputation had preceded it to most areas, which probably added to the spectacular results it often achieved when first introduced to an area. Later, particularly in the coastal areas, where the novelty soon wore off, the guns passed into the hands of more and more warriors, other than heroes and chiefs.

"Amongst the booty from the ship were many casks of powder of whose explosive nature the natives had little knowledge, and of its extreme danger when accumulated in large quantities, little conception. In one dwelling . . . were a number of kegs of powder promiscuously placed upon the floor, in the center of which a fire was kindled . . . . loose powder was scattered about, and the proprietor . . . . sat on a keg of powder before the fire, composedly smoking his pipe." W. D. Dix of the ship "Glide", 1848.

By 1840 the musket was an increasingly common weapon in the hands of coast and island dwelling warriors and was even infiltrating remote mountain districts in the interior of the major islands. But the traditional bow and sling remained in common use in combat until well into the 1850's, and played their part in mountain battles through the sixties, never being entirely replaced.

By 1850, however, the musket was the predominant projectile weapon of the coastal warrior. It must be stressed however, that firearms never completely replaced the indigenous weapons in Fijian warfare, clubs and spears still being the most numerous weapons on the battlefield as late as 1870.

From their introduction early in the century through to the late 1850's the Fijians generally obtained their muskets and ammunition by plundering shipwrecks or in trade with merchant ship captains. Later they received muskets and ammunition for bringing in trade goods. The trade in muskets, powder, ball, flints and percussion caps was only finally stamped out, along with Fijian warfare, after Fiji became a British Crown Colony in 1874.

The firearm most commonly used in Fijian warfare was the muzzleloading, smoothbored flintlock musket. Pistols were often worn by chiefs in time of danger and intrigue, but never caught on with common warriors, who preferred traditional weapons at close quarters.

Lieutenant Wilkes . . . 1845, of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, who in his punitive raid on Aalolo in 1840 became convinced that the Fijians could dodge a gunshot, noted that: "Our party having approached within seventy feet of the stockade, opened its fire on the fortification. Now was seen, what many of those present had not believed, the expertness with which these people dodge a shot at the flash of a gun. Those who were the most incredulous before, were now satisfied they could do this effectually."

Few Fijian warriors ever attained any real accuracy with the musket. The warriors tended to jerk off a shot as the gun came to the shoulder. The bullets used by the warriors were far from standard and hardly conducive to accuracy. Not knowing how to cast lead bullets, they were fond of scatter shot loads, which were a crazy mix of old nail heads and other scrap, pebbles, or even pieces of broken bottles.