Last updated: April 30, 2013
This intricately carved wooden ceremonial Polynesian paddle is currently displayed in Henry W. Longfellow's library. Believed to be originally from the Austral Islands in French Polynesia, specifically Raivavae, it is unclear how the paddle came to be in the Longfellow house. Longfellow's son Charley traveled to the South Pacific and was a great collector of objects during his trips, but the paddle is visible in historic images of the house dating back to at least 1871, about twenty years before Charley's voyage to Polynesia.
The paddle is about four feet long, and has its entire surface carved in geometric patterns and what are likely stylized representations of people or deities. It appears to have been carved with metal tools, as opposed to earlier traditional methods that made use of sharks' teeth to cut designs into the wood. As a result, it is thought that the paddle probably dates to the mid-nineteenth century, and was possibly created expressly as an export item, intended to be traded to non-native visitors.