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Wap (dugong spear)

Date: 1990
Overall (does not include feathers): 4000 x 50 mm
Medium: Wongai tree wood, nyzel, cassowary feathers, cowrie shells
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Spear
Object No: 00008352
Place Manufactured:Dauan Island

User Terms

    A wap or dugong spear made by Siwia Elisala of Dauan Island, Torres Strait.
    The wap features a long round tapering shaft made from Wongai tree wood. One section of the shaft is carved, shaped and painted in decorative white coloured lines, squares, diamonds and geometric patterns. The tip is made from nyzel, a very heavy timber, and is decorated with three graduating sizes of cassowary feathers and four large cowrie shells tied on with a piece of string. The butt is finely shaped and carved to represent a crocodile with painted white eyes, nose, legs and white triangular shaped teeth.
    SignificanceSiwia Elisala was a renowned carver on Dauan Island. His carving skills were highly valued and he was proficient in many forms of carvings - both figurative and functional. Siwia was able to use many different materials such as wood, peal shell and dugong bone.
    HistoryThe harpoon is made of 3 parts, the shaft or wap, the harpoon point or kwiuru and the harpooning rope or amu. The
    whole piece is commonly called a wap. The shaft is made from the Wongai tree. The butt end has been finely carved to represent a crocodile with white paint infill and geometric bands.
    The wap's upper end is decorated with 3 rows of cassowary feathers and large cowrie shells. The harpoon point and rope are not present in this example.
    The wap is used for catching dugong, called dhangal and occasionally turtles. To the detachable point of the harpoon
    is attached a thick buoyant line. In the past a platform was erected at low tide over the dugongs feeding grounds. The
    hunter then sat on the platform waiting for high tide and a dugong coming up for air near the platform. Today he hunts
    from a boat.
    When a dugong is sighted, the hunter leaps from the boat (or platform) and with all his weight thrusts the harpoon into
    the dugong which then makes off carrying the harpoon head and its attached line, while the shaft remains floating near
    by. If hunting at night, the cowrie shell rattle indicates whether there had been a hit and helps locate the dugong
    before the shaft comes away. Eventually the animal dies and can be drawn in and taken to shore to be cut up.
    Dauan Island is one of the few places left in the Torres Strait that still hunt the dugong for its highly prized flesh.
    Dugong hunting is very important, featuring in myth and ritual. The carved representation of the crocodile at the
    butt end of the wap is probably a reference to I'wai (crocodile), the leading person among the mythical ancestors. I'wai had the form of a man but with crocodile attributes.
    Torres Strait Islanders love of embellishment is well shown by Elisala' s work on the wap. Almost everything the islands
    make is intricately decorated. Only Elisala could have produced such a wap. His kin group owned not only the right
    to make the wap but also it's design and Elisala is one of Dauan Island's best carvers. Because of his expertise, his
    waps are usually not for sale and Elisala only makes them for feasts and funerals.
    Dauan Island is part of the intricate trading system across the strait, linking each village with other villages on the
    islands or mainland of Australia or Papua New Guinea. The cassowary feathers, were traded from Papua New Guinea and are one of the important trading items.The oches that would have originally covered the wap would have come from the Cape York Peninsula.
    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Wap or Dugong Spear

    Web title: Wap (dugong spear)

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