Kotiate and Wahaika Maori handclubs

Posted on by Richard
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Antique Maori Kotiate and Maori Wahaika are both excellent and extremely collectable examples of Maori Art. There are however contemporary versions of this form of Polynesian art and the value difference between antique and contemporary is dramatic.

Great Examples of Kotiate and Wahaiki

If by chance you have a good example of either a Kotiate or Wahaika I have been after one for years and would like to buy yours.

Contemporary Wood Kotiate

contemporary wahaiki

The wood in contemporary versions of this Maori Art tend to be made from light timbers. The antique pieces were made for smashing into people and therefore made from the hardest woods available or from whalebone.

Early examples of this polynesian art are less flamboyant than newer versions and tend not to be covered in extensive surface decoration but rather have a beauty that comes from their form.


The following is from Charles Mack in Polynesian Art at Auction

Whale Bone Kotiate

The so called fiddle and billhook types of hand club were made from both wood and whalebone. The whalebone was cut from the pan section (located behind the teeth of the lower jaw of the sperm whale) which, unlike bone from other parts of the skeleton, is extremely strong and dense. Weapons made from it are sturdier than those of  similar style made from wood. Prior to the south pacific whaling fishery in the 1820;s – 1860’s whalebone clubs would have been quite rare. However, during the height of the whaling activity, Jaws “pans” were widely traded with the Maori, and so the use of whalebone in weapons became considerably more widespread.


The feature distinguishing kotiate from other bilaterally symmetrical hand clubs is the depressed sinus halfway down each edge of the blade. These sinuses were used to attach feather bundles, which served in fighting to distract the adversary. Kotiate usually have masks as handle terminals just in front of which is found a hole for the wrist thong, Tau.

These wood hand clubs (wahaika) as well as whalebone wahaika, all have sinuses about halfway down the blade, which functioned as feather attachments as in the Kotiate. The recumbent Figure, situated forward of the handle, is useful in separating 18th century examples from 19th century styles. In the typical 19th century examples, these figures carved in high relief, are large and often filigreed. In the 18th century examples, these figures are usually either entirely absent or carved in low relief without filigree and much smaller in size, hardly extending above the form line.



19th C Wahaika Note the filigree behind the Figure and Round hole

Several wahaika exist today that were collected by by captain james Cook. It is of particular interest that none of the known 18th century wahaika have sinuses cut into their blades. Apparently wahaika without sinuses are older in style. The butt terminal of wahaika are similar to the kotiate in that they usually terminate in a mask and have a suspension hole for wrist thongs. In earlier ones this hole is square or triangular and cut through from each side. In later ones, the hole is round, drilled through from one side with European drill bits.







Very Pretty and still collectable but probably a early Tourist piece

Collectable but not made for killing people


If you are planning to add a Kotiate or Wahaika to your Maori Art collection or Polynesian Art collection be aware they are not cheap. If you are after a Maori club and are not fussy about what type then a Patu would be cheaper.

Unlike other forms of Maori weapons the more intensely carved pieces are not necessarily more collectable but like most polynesian pieces the older the better. If you are after a decorative piece of Maori Art, then a Maori feather box is better value for money.



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  • POLD Kaspar

    I have an old genuine whalebone Maori Wahaika from New Zealand although do not know if it came there from elsewhere – about four inches of the handle was broken off once and glued and it looks intact. Otherwise impeccable, no cleaning, nice patina of ageing. Would love to sell for a reasonable price, and can post photos if interested.

    Kaspar Pold

  • Nathan

    Can you please point me in the direction of a good example of the last battlefield wahaikas, I intend to have one made for myself, and would like to incorporate sinuses, and the correct holes, etc. Thanks.

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