May 25, 2012

Weapons & Warriors: The Leiomano of the Hawaiians

I first saw this bad boy on The Deadliest Warrior  TV series and I instantly fell in love with it. It resembles the Hungry Wood of the Aztecs, but it is not as razor sharp or durable. It is also not long and flat, but the weight of it and the jagged sharp teeth are just as deadly. It is scary enough to look at, but when you realize the sharp edges are real shark teeth it adds to the fear.

According to The Deadliest Warrior, the Māori were known to use this weapon, but the Leiomano was more of a Hawaiian weapon and the name Leiomano is Hawaiian. Hawaiians are more known for using it, but the simplicity and abundant resources available to make these clubs made it a possibility for Māori to either create their own or take one from an island north of New Zealand. There are many different kinds of Leiomano. The Hawaiians made fat paddle like versions to long and thin versions that resembled the Aztec Macuahuitl.

On The Deadliest Warrior they referred to the Leiomano as simply the Shark-tooth Club. After some researching, I found that many Polynesian islanders made use shark tooth weapons as well. It wasn't just a Hawaiian weapon, although its first designed versions are from Hawaii. I don't know if the Māori somehow acquired the design from interactions from Hawaiians or if they eventually came up with it on their own.

The design is fairly simple. The wooden paddle-like club had notches etched into the thin edge and holes drilled between the notches. The shark teeth also had small holes drilled through them and were then pressed into the notches. A string was then made from strong fiber that was made from touchardia latifolia, or commonly known in Hawaii as the olonā plant.The string was tied through the holes to secure the teeth into place. Other Polynesians, who did not have access to the olonā plant may have used other types of string to attach the shark teeth.

Even tied down, the teeth would sometimes break off into the wounds of the victim. These shards would create a lot of pain and discomfort as their razor sharp edges would continue to saw any soft tissue that rubbed against them. Those razor teeth are nature’s daggers. No carving or sharpening is required at all. You just have to catch a shark without getting eaten or get lucky and find a fresh dead one on the beach.

The Leiomano is sharp enough that it can cut right through any exposed skin without much resistance. The Leiomano is more effective when chopping down and then dragging the edge along the exposed skin. This is the same way the Aztecs used the Macuahuitl. As the sharp teeth broke, they would embed themselves into the skin of the opponent and continue causing damage and pain.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.


  1. Cool how they use shark teeth. I wouldn't want to be the one who had to kill the shark to get them. HA!

  2. lol, like every weapon made by the Māori, they were really devoted to crafting the best weapons they could and they put a lot of pride into their work. You can't ever say they were just playing tough. Just ask the shark.

  3. the leiomano is not a Maori weapon, its strictly Hawaiian, the Maori never used it. in fact i dont believe i have ever heard of them using shark teeth in weapon crafting. this is probably because the temperate climate of Aotearoa is too cold for reefs, and so sharks would be hard to come by except in the extreme north where the water is a little warmer.

    the one used on the show deadliest warrior was not a real leiomano either. it was a decorative piece made with the wrong type of wood, and the teeth where glued in rather than lashed properly. it was as accurate an example of a leiomano as the kill bill sword at the anime store is of a traditional katana.

    it never used adhesive in its construction, but relied solely on the lashing to hold the teeth in place. and the cord used was not dog leather but cord made from the very strong fibers of the 'olona plant.

    it was not a club at all, but was used to target soft flesh where it would do the most damage like the neck, tendons behind the knee, the testicles, etc. it was used more like a knife than a club.

    also neither the mere nor the wahaika can cut flesh, they are not that sharp, they couldn't even cut paper. these are blunt force weapons, edged for the purpose of focusing the force of a blow into a thin point of contact.

    thought i would let you know

    1. Thanks for the comment and the tips. I think you could be right about the Māori themselves not using the Leiomano due to the colder climate, but the Shark Tooth Club was not used only by Hawaiians. One of the sources that I found early on in my researching that other Polynesian cultures used this is Wikipedia. I’m not going to say that Wikipedia is 100% accurate, and it does not specify that Māori used it either. Two of the men on the Deadliest Warrior show presented the Shark Tooth Club as a Polynesian weapon, which would include the Māori since New Zealand is part of that region. One man is a Māori historian and the other is a Māori weapons specialist. I’m not saying the club they used was an accurate example, but I haven’t found anything discrediting the weapons experts for that show so far. I’m not going to get into their software though. They attempt to measure and compare things that are impossible to measure. Computers cannot calculate the human spirit or our drive to survive. The show is pure entertainment, but they claim their experts are valid.

      On the matter of the mere and the wahaika, you are absolutely correct. I did use the word sharpened at one point. That was a pour choice on my part. I will alter that word, because they are not sharp, only flattened and thinned, but still blunt. Thanks for pointing that error out to me.

      I would like to know your sources for the design of the Shark Tooth Clubs, which would be most helpful for me to rewrite that portion of this post more accurately. The description I gave on it's design was the only one I was able to find.

      I will do some more research on whether the Māori did or did not use this club. Whether I find anything or not on this, I will probably re-title and move the link for this post under Hawaiian warriors. When I wrote it, I was focusing a series on the Māori, but even then I felt it really belonged to Hawaii. I just haven’t done any posts for that culture yet. Like the Ottoman, this should be made into a stand-alone post.

      Thanks again for the advice. I’m always open to learning more about weapons. This one is still one of my favorites.