Fijian throwing club could fly

A rare Fijian throwing club found in a Kent wardrobe is expected to spark a bidding battle at auction. 

The 18th-century weapon, which spent decades hidden away and baffled family and friends who didn’t know what it was, is now set for auction with Hansons Royal Tunbridge Wells. 

The item was discovered by Hansons owner Charles Hanson during a routine home visit. He said: “It’s amazing what turns up in wardrobes. From the South Pacific to Kent, this rare tribal item should sail away under the hammer. I predict worldwide interest from tribal art collectors. The 1930s wardrobe it was found in would have been worth no more than £35 but the club,  known as an ula, could sell for £600 or more. 

“Antique tribal objects are in demand. This example has an exceptional deep, glossy patina and significant age, being late 18th century. It’s brittle and worn in places but that will not deter bidders.” 

The seller, a 66-year-old retired NHS clinical coder from Tonbridge, Kent, said: “The Fiji club was found in my father’s wardrobe. I have no idea how he obtained it. I remember seeing it many years ago but only really looked at it when clearing his house in Bromley, Kent, after his death in 2015 at the age of 99.  

“He was in the Navy for a few years but as far as I know he never travelled to the South Pacific. The wardrobe was sold on but we removed its contents first. I was quite surprised by the valuation though I had seen similar items on various antique shows. I did not really appreciate its historical significance. 

“Since 2015 I’ve just kept it on a shelf in my spare bedroom. I always thought it was old and interesting and asked family and friends what they thought it was but nobody really knew. I have been decorating the spare room and thought it was time to find it a home where it will be appreciated.” 

Charles said: “Weapons like this were carved from the roots of ironwood saplings. They were worn by warriors in their waistbands and thrown with great speed and precision at enemies. Early European sailors who reached Fiji knew this only too well. Some were unfortunate enough to have ulas hurled at them 

“Today original tribal weapons like this are popular due to their historical significance and craftsmanship. The club, with its large, fluted petallike head with five nodes around a central node, has a sculptural quality.  The grip on the handle is carved with parallel zigzag lines known as tava tava to allow better grip.  

Often clubs were carved with nicks or notches to demonstrate a tally of kills.  Another common method was to inlay a tooth from each victim in the club’s head.  Thankfully we didn’t see any of those. 

It’s amazing what we uncover in wardrobes, garages, attics or even kitchen cupboards. I’m so pleased the vendor kept it, despite not knowing what it was. Valuable items like this can easily get thrown away by families dealing with the pressure and emotion of clearing a house. It’s so hard to decide what to keep when sorting through a lifetime of accumulated personal treasures.” 

The Fiji throwing club, estimate  £400-£600, will be offered at auction by Hansons Royal Tunbridge Wells on August 31.