Summary | Raw materials | Items of material culture | Other tasks | Arrows | String | Survival in a prehistoric context

Raw materials | Stone | Hafts | Wood and bark | Bamboo | Rattan | Feathers and shell | Bone

3.1.1 Stone

The use of stone for tools comprised two distinct traditions among the Wola and across the highland region. On the one hand, locally available chert was used to manufacture unretouched flake tools. On the other hand, there was the polished stone axe, which ceased to be used as a functional tool soon after westerners arrived in the highlands, to be replaced with steel axes, though ceremonial stone axes are still sometimes used in dances. Polished stone axes were imported from other regions of the highlands. The stone to make polished stone axes does not, to their knowledge, exist in the Wola region.

Plate 6 6 Plate 7 7 Plate 8 8 Plate 9 9
Hewing a pig club with a stone axe (6), Hewing a haft for a stone axe with a stone axe (7), Cutting palmwood for arrow points using a stone axe (8), Working on shaft for a spear (9)

Plate 10 10 Plate 11 11
Hewing a shield (10), Shaping the neck of a drum (11)

The stone axe was used for a wide range of tasks, both in a primary way, for chopping down trees, bushes and cane grasses, for making fence posts, preparing firewood and other general garden preparation work, and in a secondary way, to manufacture a wide range of other tools (Plates 4, 6-11). Steel axes have now replaced these. In skilled hands, stone axes are surprisingly effective. Experiments have shown that the ratio of speed and efficiency in cutting down trees and garden clearing between steel and stone ranges from 4.4:1 (Townsend 1969) to 3-4:1 (Salisbury 1962) to 2.5:1 (Godelier and Garanger 1973) to possibly even less (Sillitoe 1979b). Ornamental axes continue to be used for ceremonial purposes though they are difficult to obtain. Many axes owned by Wola men had been inherited; as these axes are not used for work, they go on 'for ever' (Sillitoe 1988, 457). Hampton (1999), working in the highlands of Irian Jaya, records a sophisticated and complex range of sacred uses of stone of which axe heads formed an integral part.

The raw material for these axes came from quarries in various parts of the Highlands, and they were distributed throughout the region as part of a ceremonial exchange and trade network. Though the Wola themselves did not make any ground stone items, they were fully aware of the methods of grinding stone and frequently reground and upgraded the sharp edges of their stone axe heads. Their method of hafting axes differed to that described for other parts of the highlands, comprising a separate socket and haft bound together, whereas in other places the haft consisted of one piece of wood, cut to shape (Blackwood 1950; Godelier and Garanger 1973; Hampton 1999; Nilles 1942-5; Pospisil 1963; Sillitoe 1979a; 1982; 1988; Strathern 1969). Often the single haft method is arranged as an adze. The Wola never hafted stone blades this way. Axe heads were in short supply, being trade items rather than locally manufactured. Due to their relative scarcity and their multifunctional importance, they were carefully looked after; an axe head frequently lasted a man's lifetime and beyond, though hafts and bindings were mended and remade fairly frequently (Plates 12, 70).

Plate 12a 12a Plate 12b 12b Plate 12c 12c Plate 12d 12d
Stone axe maintenance: The lashing to secure the split socket of a stone axe to the haft (12a), Knapping even the edge of a badly chipped stone axe blade (12b), Honing a stone blade (12c), Honing the blade of a steel axe (12d)

Plate 70a 70a Plate 70b 70b Plate 70c 70c Plate 70d 70d
Making polished stone axes: Shaping the haft of a stone axe (70a), Trying out the split socket and haft of a stone axe for size and fit (70b), The start of a woven band to secure a stone axe head into a split socket (70c), Lashing the split socket of a stone axe to the haft (70d)

Two types of ground stone knives have been documented elsewhere in the Highlands though these did not exist among the Wola; a machete-type polished stone knife for cutting scrubby ground cover in preparing gardens, and a flake knife for cutting, planting and harvesting crops (Golson 1977a; Pospisil 1963).

Plate 13 13 Plate 14 14 Plate 15 15 Plate 16 16
Paring bamboo pin for marsupial teeth bead ornament (13), Shaping bamboo jew's harp (14), Shaping end of bamboo tobacco pipe (15), Shaping end of bamboo tobacco pipe (16)

Plate 17 17 Plate 18 18 Plate 19 19 Plate 20 20 Plate 21 21
Carving design on bamboo tobacco pipe (17-19), Cutting notched design on bamboo ear-hair pin (20-21)

Plate 22 22 Plate 23 23 Plate 24 24 Plate 75 75
Cutting tongue on bamboo jew's harp (22), Sharpening bamboo ear-hair pin (23), A woman called Hundbin using a bamboo knife to flatten the stems of sedge used in making skirts (24), Cutting cassowary claw for arrow point (75)

Flaked stone tools were an integral and important part of the traditional material culture of the Wola. They were used routinely up until the 1980s throughout the New Guinea Highlands (Sillitoe 1982; 1988; Strathern 1969; Watson 1995; White 1968; 1979; White and Thomas 1972; White et al. 1977) and may remain in use in certain areas today (Hampton 1999). They were used directly in food preparation, notably for butchering pigs, but their real importance to the Wola lay in their role as manufacturing tools; they were used into the 1980s, well after the introduction of steel axes and razor blades, in the manufacturing process of over half of all items of material culture including most tools, weapons, consumption utensils, musical instruments and many body ornamental items (Table 2 and Plates 6-69). Other raw materials used to make tools with uses comparable to chert flakes included bamboo, bone, animal teeth, claws and tusks (Plates 24, 75).

Plate 25 25
Cutting bamboo to make a cane headband, children looking on

Plate 26 26 Plate 27 27 Plate 28 28 Plate 29 29 Plate 30 30
Carving ferrule design on cane grass arrow stem (26), Shaving skin off Miscanthus cane grass stem for arrow ferrule (27), Paring down bow stock (28), Rubbing bow smooth with abrasive leaves (29), Paring palmwood arrow foreshaft (30)

Plate 31 31 Plate 32 32 Plate 33 33 Plate 34 34 Plate 35 35 Plate 36 36
Carving design on palmwood arrow point (31), Carving ferrule attachment for bamboo arrow point (32), Paring palmwood arrowpoint (33), Sharpening palmwood arrow point (34), Sharpening palmwood arrow point (35), Sharpening palmwood arrow point (36)

Neither the Wola, nor other groups of highlanders categorised stone tool use and waste material in the same way as modern archaeologists. No distinction was made between flakes and cores, and an artefact could be used for many purposes whatever it was or looked like. For example White (1979) explained that people saw pieces not as single tools, rather, as pieces of stone that could be applied to a range of tasks. He suggested that one piece could be used as a knife, a plane, a core, a hammer and a cooking stone, at different moments in its use life.

Plate 37 37 Plate 38 38 Plate 39 39 Plate 40 40
Sharpening palmwood arrow point (37), Planing wooden axe helve (38), Planing wooden axe helve (39), Paring pointed length of wood for arrow foreshaft (40)

Plate 41 41 Plate 42 42
Paring pointed length of wood for arrow foreshaft (41), Working on piece of tree fern wood (42)

Places where the Wola carried out their stone tool working varied. If they were working with a material such as wood which leaves no dangerous waste, they might work as they walked about. At other times, they worked in the corner of their house or houseyard.

Plate 43 43 Plate 44 44 Plate 45 45 Plate 46 46
Planing down wood (43-46)

Plate 47 47 Plate 48 48 Plate 49 49 Plate 50 50
Sharpening wood to a point (47), Cutting piece of palmwood in two (48), Cutting piece of palmwood in two (49), Paring tree fern wood pin (50)

Plate 51a 51a Plate 51b 51b Plate 51c 51c
Making digging sticks: Fashioning a woman's digging stick (51a), Hewing a man's digging stick (51b), Shaping the paddle-like end of a man's digging stick (51c)

Plate 52 52 Plate 53 53 Plate 54 54 Plate 55 55 Plate 56 56 Plate 57 57 Plate 58 58
Working on bone (52-58)

Flaked stone, though constituting a vital part of the traditional material culture, was not afforded high status by the Wola, they considered it necessary but uninteresting. Whether chert tools ever had status or whether their status was usurped a long time ago by the spectacular and multifunctional polished stone axe is a matter for speculation.

Plate 59 59 Plate 60 60 Plate 61 61 Plate 62 62
A man called Kot paring down a piece of bone for an arrow point (59), Paring rattan strand for bark girdle strap (60), Shaving down rattan strand (61-62)

Plate 63 63 Plate 64 64 Plate 65 65
Paring rattan strand for cowrie shell necklace (63), Shaving down rattan strand (64-65)

Plate 66 66 Plate 67 67 Plate 68 68 Plate 69 69
Abrading pig's ribs, in butchery (66), Man butchering a pig (67), Making incisions in pig's belly during butchery (68), Making incisions in pig's belly during butchery (69)


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Last updated: Wed Oct 8 2003