Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Height: 1.000 m
Collected on the voyages of Captain James
Gift of Sir A.W. Franks
AOA Van 231
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 as 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 was assumed until recently that this image had been collected in Hawaii on Captain Vancouver's voyage, as it came into the Museum with material collected by the surgeon's first mate on that voyage. It has now been attributed to Captain Cook's third voyage (1776-80) on the basis of two pieces of evidence. A watercolour by the artist Sarah Stone includes a very similar artefact. Stone illustrated a number of artefacts collected on Cook's voyages, probably in 1783. This collection was located in Sir Ashton Lever's private museum, the Leverian. An illustration closely resembling this image was published in the Atlas accompanying the official account of the voyage. It was based on a drawing by John Webber, one of Cook's official artists.
The Hawaiians regarded Cook as a manifestation of their god Lono. He was treated with great respect during his time in Hawaii, and received a number of valuable gifts. However, he was killed on 14 February 1779 after a skirmish, a result of some misunderstanding on both sides.
A.L. Kaeppler, Artificial Curiosities: being (Honolulu, Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 1978)
J. Cook and J. King, A voyage to the Pacific Ocean,, 3 vols. (London, G.Nichol and T.Cadell, 1784)
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)