photo from

The Melanesians, People of the South Pacific

by Albert B. Lewis


At the mouth of the Sepik river and to a lesser extent the eastern coastal region of New Guinea, the spear is the preferred weapon for hunting and war. Hand thrown spears are long and heavy but a lighter bamboo spear is thrown with the aid of a throwing-stick. In most cases, spears are made with long slender wooden heads with many barbs and are often beautifully decorated with carved or incised designs. Spears used exclusively for hunting have points made of bamboo.

The throwing-stick is also made from a length of bamboo with a carved wood spear rest usually representing a bird set into a slot and tied just above the gripping area. A portion of the upper surface of the spear thrower is cut away, creating a trough to guide the butt of the spear into a socket formed by a natural joint in the bamboo spear-thrower. Dimensions vary but average length is about 30 inches with a 11/8 inch diameter. As with arrows used throughout New Guinea, spears are never fletched.

A variation of the war spear thrown with the throwing-stick incorporated a spur tied to the spear at 1/2 of the overall length of the spear. The socket of the thrower engaged the spur instead of the butt of the spear, this allowed a much longer and more slender spear to be used. A bundle of plant fibers that look and act much like a badminton shuttlecock was tied a short distance behind the spur. The tip of the spear is made from long slender hard wood with many barbs. This spear was designed to be thrown high over the opposing forces where it would drop down almost vertically, posing a deadly distraction from above. The strategy was to throw light-weight spears directly at individuals who were caught looking skyward to avoid the verticle cross-fire. Depending on the severity of the conflict, one or two spear induced casualties would satisfy the combatants desire for revenge. Severe conflicts culminated in a headlong assault with clubs and axes producing terrible wounds and death. All-out warfare was generally avoided to prevent tribal disruption and instability caused by great loss of life.