Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Acho’ Atupat & the Koru

I found my first sling stone on Saipan in 2004 while jogging at Beach Road. Holding the artifact, I was amazed by its craftsmanship as I contemplated how the ancients came to design and fashion it without the use of modern devices. It was a connection to the past. This find fueled my fascination with one of the principal weapons of the ancient Chamorros.

The Chamorro name for sling stone is acho' atupat (or atupak) and produced them in the Latte Period/Phase (1000-250 BP). History books describe them as egg or acorn-shaped stones fashioned with “jasper-like” stone, or with sun or fire-hardened clay. People now use the words biconical or football-shaped to describe them. The ancient people wielded them with deadly accuracy.

The biconical shape of the Chamorro sling stone is supposed to be state of the art as compared to sling stone designs from other parts of the world. Here is an article about some archaeologists studying them. I though, that they come in more shapes than what has already been described. Some are more like flattened deflated footballs and others have one side that is flat.

The Flag of Guahan has an acho' atupat.

I believe that making a sling stone required a good deal of artistic ability from selecting the right materials to the fashioning of the shape and the polishing of the final stone. This fascination fueled my desire to experiment in making my own sling stone replicas using modern tools. I had to do a bit of research, into cutting, grinding and polishing limestone. Then I had to buy materials and tools that would make my labor easier. Even though I used modern tools, it was still a labor-intensive effort which most of the times left my entire body dusty, sweaty and sore. Most of the soreness was in my shoulders, arms and hands from handling the materials. In the end though, the results I was getting was all worth it!I made the replicas a bigger than actual sling stones so that they could be used as decorative pieces. Here is one I fashioned right next to the sling stone I modeled the shape after (9.3cm:4.7cm). I found that one in Pau Pau Beach and I describe the shape as biconical with a flat side.

The stones that I have been using are coral limestones that I found to be full of character either in shape or color. I got the original stone from Wing Beach and lucked out that it is a chalcedony. The calcite and aragonite from sea creatures like coral and shells were buried, compressed and heated under the earth to be fused and turned into microscopic quartz crystals. When I was grinding it the cream, orange and brick colors of the rock was apparent, and when I finally polished it, the true beauty of the colors and patterns came out.

A special bonus was also revealed in the stone! A spiral pattern of a long ago marine snail that was amalgamated in the rock matrix revealed itself! You can clearly see the shell’s whorl on the face of the polished stone. What a beautiful fossil! It immediately reminded me of the koru.

I found this beautiful koru in Pohnpei going up to Sokhe's Rock.

The koru is the unfurled fern frond that is often used in Māori art as a symbol of creation. The spiraling shape suggests the idea of continuous movement, and its inner coil hint to a return to the point of origin.

The koru thus symbolizes the way which life changes and also stays the same. It therefore also symbolizes new life, growth, strength, purity, peace, tranquility and spirituality along with a strong sense of regrowth or new beginnings.
The koru is also often associated with nurturing, frequently used to represent the strength and purity of a loving relationship within a family.
It is only the second month of the year. It is almost the third. There have been a lot of changes surrounding my life especially what I felt were permanent fixtures in my job. I'll be honest and say that I do not deal with change very well (esp. when it comes to my circle of people). The koru reminds me to be flexible and accepting of change. If there is no change in life then life itself ceases and desists. Life goes on.
Ti napu.

The Beachcomber


Mai said...

That is SOOOO cool! I never knew why the Guam flag had that shape! That's cool that you keep finding stuff like that..... I think it's because your eyes are always searching and looking in places that most people fail to even notice.

The Beachcomber said...

Yes, I have big eyes! Miss you, Mai? How was Portland?

Sean said...

That shell shape on the slingstone you made is amazing. As always, thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Now that is an awesome piece you made! Do you have any pics of the other sling stones you have found. Do you find any other types of ancient tools? I would love to see any pics of your collection if you don't mind sharing. Over here on Guam it is super hard to find an actual ancient slingstone.


The Beachcomber said...

Sean- I hope I get to see you all when you come since I have a few business trips in April.

Joe Anon- It is actually pretty difficult to find slingstones even in the CNMI. I'll write about other implements that I've found soon.

Anonymous said...

The sling 'bullet' you have made is beautiful! The statement that 'The biconical shape of the Chamorro sling stone is supposed to be state of the art as compared to sling stone designs from other parts of the world'is in fact innacurate. Across the ancient Greek and Roman world bi-conical sling bullets were ubiquitous. The lead sling bullet being the most ‘hi-tech’ as it is so much smaller than a stone ‘bullet’ of similar weight and is thus – due to its smaller size -more aerodynamic and reached a much greater velocity and distance. Rarest and perhaps the ultimate in sling bullet technology were the bi-conical Greek lead sling bullets which had a razor sharp bronze blade around the centre. These were much more difficult to make and thus far more expensive. It is likely therefore that these were issued to the most accurate sling users in military campaigns.

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