Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Height: 107.000 cm
Formerly in the Leverian
Purchased from the London Missionary Society
AOA LMS 221
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Possibly 18th century AD
The Hawaiians made images of their gods which they covered with feathers and carried into battle on poles. There they served as portable personal gods for the chiefs and encouragement for the warriors. It is believed that these feather gods represent the war god Kuka'ilimoku, though others, including forms of the gods Ku and Lono, were probably also represented.
It is likely that such images developed from the crested Hawaiian featherwork helmets. Their method of construction is similar: a basketry frame covered with olona (Touchardia latifolia) fibre netting with attached feathers. The feathers were predominantly red (from the 'i'iwi bird), with yellow and black detail (from 'o'o or mamo birds), as used to make the cloaks, capes and helmets of a chief's regalia. The crest on the head may have been intended to copy that of the chief's helmet, so that the chief and his god were similarly attired for battle.
This piece was acquired from the collection of the London Missionary Society, who recorded that it came from the Leverian Museum. If this is correct, it is one of the artefacts collected on Captain Cook's third voyage. Cook and his crew arrived in Hawaii in 1778.
The eyes are made of pearl-shell with wooden pegs attached as pupils, and the teeth are those of dogs.
A.L. Kaeppler, Artificial Curiosities: being (Honolulu, Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 1978)
A.L. Kaeppler, 'Genealogy and disrespect: a study of symbolism in Hawaiian images', Res, 3, Published by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard (Spring 1982), pp. 82-107
A.L. Kaeppler, 'Tracing the history of Hawaiian Cook voyage artefacts in the Museum of Mankind' in Captain Cook and the South P-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1979), pp. 167-99