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Whales tooth & club: proofs of Pagan religion from pre Chr. Fiji

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Whales tooth & club: proofs of Pagan religion from pre Chr. Fiji

These two items are from the estate of the Reverend Charles Dadds - a South Australian Methodist Minister to Fiji from 1918-1921, and are offered as one lot. They comprise a sacred Fijian whale's tooth (tabua) and a hardwood throwing club (Ula) made in the days before Christianity, in the days of blood and old religion. They are described by us as "proofs of Pagan religion" because Dadds used them on his return from Fiji to illustrate his sermons on Christian Light in the heathen Fijian darkness to curious Australian congregations.

Dadds' speeches were of the "fire and brimstone" variety, evangelizing the work of his brother Wesleyan missionaries in Fiji as they struggled against the "superstitious" Fijians. The significance of these items is more profound than Dadds could ever have imagined, however, and the importance of these objects has been almost completely lost in the modernisation of Fiji. In a survey of the historical significance of the Tabua, in particular, we give the first comprehensive analysis of it and outline why Dadds failed to grasp exactly why he was presented with the Tabua by his Fijian parishioners. They sought to bind him to their old religion, to the ways of blood and spirit and his acceptance of the object gave tacit support to this incorporation of what he saw as "heathen" into his chosen religion, at least as it was practised in Fiji. The irony was lost on him. The pre Christian Fijian was burried with his tabua and ula in order that they might assist him on his spirit journey. Dadds took his tabua and ula with him on the journey of the rest of his life..... Were they souvenirs, or mementos, or mystical charms for him?  

The full story with all details of this may be downloaded below or see our News section.

Note: a leading Australian authority on scrimshaw (the engraved whale tooth), Warwick Oakman, has described this article as follows:


Thank You very much for your extraordinary essay on "A Whale's Tooth from Fiji". What a marvellous effort. It is the largest single body of work on these seminal objects. In the context of the Revered Dadds versus  the traditional role of the Cannibal Chief, it would seem likely that this is no ordinary tabua. I enjoyed the idea that given the prior power of priests or spirit Elders in Fijian society, and the power and suffering that seemed to result from the Western equivalent, it was wise to treat the new religion with equal respect or fear. It is the best argument and reading of the tabua as a Pre Christian object of power. It is of superb colour and size, and worthy of the research. It is now in the best position to be understood for the future and valued accordingly. The frankness with which you dealt with the cannibal component was refreshing and may I say, delicious.

What a wonderful example of research on a single object.

I am,

Yours Sincerely

Warwick Oakman



The full story may be downloaded as a PDF from here or read the full story in our news section.


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