General >> General Slinging Discussion >> Slings in Fiji

Message started by _kava_ on Jul 9th, 2012 at 9:00pm

Title: Slings in Fiji
Post by _kava_ on Jul 9th, 2012 at 9:00pm
G'Day  :)

Recently I was visiting the small pacific island nation of Fiji for a wedding :)

I didn't get the chance to visit the capital (and its museum), but being aware that slings were used in the pacific,
I kept an eye out for any info I could find... no luck seeing anyone using one though :(

but I was able to find a small text published by the museum that catalogued (with brief descriptions) pieces in its collection.
Yay! some info on slings in Fiji became apparent.  

The  text is "Yalo-i-Viti" a Fiji museum catalogue by Fergus Clunie, reprinted in 2003.
ISBN: 982-208-005-0

Adapted from the text:

173. iRabo, sling. The strings are braided from coir (coconut husks) sinnet, whilst the raft of strings which from the pouch are whipped and bound together with hibiscus bast cordage.
Length of stings, 625 and 701 mm.

Fights usually began with a hail of arrows and slingstones. In using the sling the looped end of one string was slipped over the index finger of the throwing hand, whilst the knotted end of the other was gripped between thumb and index finger.

A heavy cobble - often up to about the size of a tennis ball - was placed in the pouch, and the sling swung through a single whipping arc, the knotted end of the cord being released with a flick which sent the stone hurtling towards its target.

Boys were schooled in the use of the sling and the dodging from its missiles from infancy, so that while slingstones flew thick and fast in skirmishes, they inflicted fewer casualties than might otherwise have been expected.

Where they did hit, however, slingstones inflicted stunning, often crippling, and sometimes immediately fatal wounds. Accuracy was far from precise, the stones generally being loosed in volleys.
sling001.jpg (234 KB | )

Title: Re: Slings in Fiji
Post by xxkid123 on Jul 9th, 2012 at 10:27pm
Dodging sling stones? Surely doable but in my a opinion nearly a feat to do it with consistency. Even in volleys I would think it would be difficult to spot every single one of the stones coming your way. Ricochet wouldn't help either. A lot of respect for them...

Title: Re: Slings in Fiji
Post by Matt Borel on Jul 9th, 2012 at 11:50pm
Glad to see the comments on accuracy and volley strategy, as I have suspected that slings were utilized more for cover fire, harassment, and "hail of stones" volleys from and/or into a group, and that the tales of intentional, accurate one-on-one attacks were not that common. Or that the events were less common than the stories. Even in the age of rifles many battles involve groups of riflemen firing at enemy groups. To think that slingers in armies would be trying to hit dispersed, indidvidual targets seems pretty optimistic.

Title: Re: Slings in Fiji
Post by Rat Man on Jul 10th, 2012 at 2:06pm
Very interesting, Kava.  Thanks.

Title: Re: Slings in Fiji
Post by Torc on Jul 10th, 2012 at 8:10pm

Accuracy was far from precise, the stones generally being loosed in volleys.

This always gets me. In a firing line accuracy was not the goal, as long as you could sent the round as far as was needed, into a large group, you were certainly going to hit someone somwhere. This was no different for archers who got the arch and released on command. (Being around SCA combat archers teaches you a thing or two).

Title: Re: Slings in Fiji
Post by _kava_ on Dec 6th, 2012 at 10:12pm
G'day :)

Well, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Fiji again (for another Hindu wedding) and this time I made sure I visited the Fiji Museum in the capital, Suva.

The Museum was third world. All the signs and display cabinets were hand made by the staff and the presentation of the items of the collection were not the best they could be. This actually made the museum probably one of the best I have ever visited, because having done all the work themselves definitely made what the staff  had done with the place more of an achievement!

No slings were on display, but I managed to obtain a copy of "Fijian Weapons and Warfare" by Fergus Clunie. This text has a one page chapter on slings as found in Fiji:

 I have been led to think that the natives throw stones and other missiles with extraordinary force. I am confirmed in this opinion by a musket which stands at my elbow. It was used by a Tonguese in the late attack on Koro na Yasaca. During the conflict a stone struck the barrel of this musket - the barrel is 3 feet and 2 inches long - shattered the lighter part of the stock; made an indentation in the barrel 1-8 of an inch in depth, and ... drove the barrel 7-16 of an inch out of the straight line.( I have since learned that this stone was thrown from a sling). I have also been surprised at the ease with which and active native avoids stones which are hurled at him.
Rev. Thomas Williams (Henderson 193a:290)

It seems logical to proceed from the spear-throwing cord [Swiss/Yorkshire arrow] to the sling or i rabo, which was a popular Fijian weapon, although it gradually disappeared and was almost totally replaced with firearms in the second half of the nineteenth century, still being used for sport until the early twentieth century. Early accounts by traders and beachcombers (Imthurm & Wharton 1925:41-70; Dillon 1829:5-6, 23, 27; Cary 1972:52) show that the battle usually opened with volleys of sling stones and arrows before the warriors closed to fight at close quaters with spears and clubs. William Lockerby mentioned that clubmen were also armed with slings; the sling being particularly handy in that it provided warriors with an effective missile weapon which when not needed could simply be tied around the waist or upper arm, not impeding the use of the war club in any way.

The strings of the sling were plaited from Magimagi (pronounced mungy-mungy with the "ng" as in sing) coir-sinnet, the inner bark of the vau wild hibiscus (hibiscus tiliaceus), and in very rare cased from human hair. Fine twine made from the wa yaka vine (pueraria lobata) was used to cover and bind together the several parallel coir-sinnet cords which made up the basket or stone pouch of the sling. the two throwing strings which ran up from either end of the basket , one ending in a finger loop the other ending in a knot, where each generally some 60 to 70 centimeters long.

In using the sling or i rabo the finger loop was placed over the middle finger of the throwing hand, the knot of the cord being grasped between the thumb and index finger, and the stone being placed in the basket. The slinger swung the sling round once above his head, then snapped out his arm and released the knotted cord, the sling jerking out to its fullest extent, sending the stone hurtling towards its target (Rougier 1915:30-31). Colman Wall (1916:12) claimed that alternatively the two strings were held as outlined above in the throwing hand, which was braced across the middle of the chest ,and the pouch or basket containing the stone was grasped by the other hand, which held extended back at arm's length. The slinger simultaneously released the basket and whipped his throwing arm out to its full extent, releasing the knotted cord with a powerful jerk, projecting the stone towards its target. I have tried this and again and it provides a food flat trajectory, but I can achieve very little velocity by this means, which must have taken a special knack.

I have never seen a definite Fijian sling stone so cannot confirm whether they were simply rounded river stones or were oval pointed in shape, they were probably carried in a bag worn around the waist. Te sling stones, judging by the range in size from heft pebbles to rocks up to the size of the stone baskets, must have varied considerably in size from heft pebbles to rocks up to the size of a small orange and I suspect that the round stones of about tennis ball size found lying about in old forts, while definitely hurled by hand from hill forts,may well have been cast from slings on occasion.

Apart from sling and hand-thrown stones some use was also made of incendiary stones consisting of dry grass plaited around the stone and then ignited, the flming projectile being flung over the fighting fence into the thatched roofs it defended (Ratu [chief] Viliame Vatureba: pers. comm)

an interesting tidbit:

William Lockerby described how mercenary warriors from Koro painted themselves for a taqa [military revue] at Bua in 1808, according to the arms they bore: I visited these strangers previous to their obtaining audience, and found them engaged in cleaning their spears and club, painting their bodies, &c. Those who were armed with bows and arrows painted themselves all over with turmeric and coconut oil: those armed with spears were painted from their naval upwards all black, and red from that part downwards; those, with slings and clubs, were painted entirely black, their heads and rms excepted, which were red  


Title: Re: Slings in Fiji
Post by David Morningstar on Dec 7th, 2012 at 3:33am

Great stuff!  8-)

Title: Re: Slings in Fiji
Post by Dan on Dec 7th, 2012 at 8:10am
Cool stuff man! Thanks for posting!  :)

Title: Re: Slings in Fiji
Post by Bill Skinner on Dec 7th, 2012 at 11:50am
That is some great info.  Thank you for posting it.

Title: Re: Slings in Fiji
Post by Morphy on Dec 8th, 2012 at 5:37pm
Great info and I love the look of that sling you posted.

Title: Re: Slings in Fiji
Post by teilmtaball on Jan 18th, 2022 at 6:21pm
In Fiji now, thanks for the head start. Iʻll be on the search!

Title: Re: Slings in Fiji
Post by Kick on Jan 19th, 2022 at 12:41pm
Welcome to the forum and thanks for bringing this post back up to the surface. There are some really interesting aspects about these descriptions:
1. The training to dodge slingstones. As mentioned, that must have been so difficult, but the fact it's something being trained for indicates it's possible and efforts to avoid slingstones were expected to be a good warrior.
2. That slingers were separated from archers and perhaps had a different role. It's not mentioned whether the archers had a secondary close-up weapon, but slingers specifically had clubs that they would use after barraging the enemy with stones and that the sling was a good pair for a club because it's so portable.

It really shows how having warriors that could sling as well as fight hand-to-hand was just as true in Fiji as it was when Vegetius said that all troops should be taught how to sling specifically because the sling is so easy to carry. I love that either ends of the world worked out slings are pretty neat :D

I feel we need a podcast episode on this stuff... Forum » Powered by YaBB 2.5.2!
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