Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Pre-19th century AD
American missionaries visited the Hawaiian Islands in 1820, bringing the Christian message with them, which was soon widely adopted. The Hawaiians no longer needed images of the gods Lono and Kuka'ilimoku. The wooden and basketry images related to these gods were destroyed or hidden in caves.
The Hawaiian expert Adrienne Kaeppler has identified this image as one collected on Captain Cook's third voyage (1776-80). It is remarkably similar to another collected at the same time, now in the Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin. Both images were painted by Sarah Stone while in the Cook collection of the Leverian Museum. It seems that this feather god was bought by a Mr Higgins when the Leverian Museum collections were sold by auction in 1806, and probably entered The British Museum collection through his family.
This is the only one of the five Hawaiian feather gods in The British Museum's collection to bear human hair, which is plaited centrally producing the effect of a parting. The image has distinctive black feather eyebrows, a mouth edged with dog teeth, and pearl shell eyes.
A.L. Kaeppler, Artificial Curiosities: being (Honolulu, Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 1978)
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
R.W. Force and M. Force, Art and artifacts of the 18th (Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press, 1968)