Arthur Palmer - Aboriginal, Oceanic & Tribal Art

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

PARASI the Magic Headhunting Club

Arthur Beau Palmer

War magic Parasi Head Hunter's Coup Staff Club circa WWII
Nomad Fly River, Papua New Guinea
Length 105cm (41 inches) width 9.5cm (4 inches)Local wood, natural earth ochre and charcoal, bush string and feathers
Courtesy Holger Braun. Ex. Arthur Palmer Family Collection Brisbane.

We go; one not escape.
All we shall kill. Finish!
Song of the Headhunter in Williams.

F.E.Williams, the great early writer on Papua, thought this item of such importance in Head Hunter society and culture from this region that he used an image of a similar example for the dust jacket cover of his major ethnography of the region. Discussion in the book describes intended doomed victims being rendered helpless and stupefied by being touched by a senior man's Parasi. For further discussion on this rare artefact see Papuans of the Trans Fly 1936 F.E. Williams pp266-269.
The Parasi club is of flimsy construction purposefully to shatter on contact with the intended victim of the headhunting raid. The man so struck is rendered powerless to escape by the malevolent sympathetic magic & super natural sanction intrinsic in this object & act of coup. This magico-symbolic club type is described for a number of groups in the Trans Fly region – the Marind-Anim, Morehead peoples the Suki (see Hitchcock, Grottanelli & Kooijman).
A heavy stone or wood club is then used to strike the death blow.
The light wood fret work when broken is left in the village beside the beheaded body. During a trial for headhunting in the 1930s Justice Sir Hubert Murray heard in evidence that these fragments were deliberately left because each parasi design was unique to each group. Thus on return after fleeing their village & viewing the beheaded bodies, the families would know who killed their relatives.
Only the short handle is taken back with the severed head by the raiding warrior. No man would face return to his village after an expedition with his parasi intact.
This particular Parasi example has a portrait at its centre to represent a known individual 'Big Man' in an adjoining village who was to be the intended victim of the next head hunting raid. The haunted look of resignation on this face is very telling. A significant and rare, well preserved example of this powerful battle magic club staff.
The power possessed by the Parasi - Super Natural Sanctions and sympathetic magic are linked to decoration & ritual secret society chants. A malevolent secret, sacred & dangerous object of ritual paraphernalia used to deadly effect.
Williams rates this mysterious and highly ornamental ritual club as the iconic material culture marker of Trans Fly pre contact head hunter and internecine warfare culture.

Grottanelli,V.C. 1951 On the mysterious Baratu clubs from Central new Guinea. Man
51: 105-107

Hitchcock,G. 2004 06 21: Torres Strait origin of some stone headed clubs from the
Torassi or Bensbach Rivers area, SW P.N.G. memoirs of the
Queensland Museum, Cultural heritage Series 3 (1): 305-315
ISSN 1440-4788.

Koijman,S. 1952. The function & significance of some ceremonial clubs of the
Marind Anim Dutch New Guinea. Man 52. 97-99

Williams, F.E. 1936 Papuans of the Trans Fly. 266-269

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