Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Height: 65.500 cm
Gift of Sir George Grey, first Governor General of New Zealand (1845-53)
Africa, Oceania, Americas
From Raivavae, Austral Islands,
Possibly 18th or early 19th century AD
The figurative carvings of the Austral Islanders are not as well known as the elaborate wood-carving with which they decorated such objects as tall drums, ceremonial paddles and ladles. There are a few exceptions to this, notably the figure of A'a from Rurutu, now in the British Museum. Most other Austral Islands figures were probably lost or destroyed during the early contact period around the 1820s. The Austral Islands have been administered by France since 1842.
This figure is evidently female, having pointed breasts and an obvious vulva. It may represent a deity. It has distinctive carvings on the face, body and knees, including circles surrounded by 'rays' (sometimes described as 'sun' motifs) on the cheeks and knees, which may represent tattooing. Similar carved markings can be seen on another wooden female figure collected from the island of Raivavae by the missionary John Williams, who described it as a goddess, and which is now in the Auckland Institute and Museum.
This figure has a long necklace of alternating white shell and coconut shell disc beads, of a type common to various parts of the Pacific. It may have been added to the figure after it was collected.
T. Barrow, The art of Tahiti and the neig (London, Thames and Hudson, 1979)
W.O. Oldman, The Oldman Collection of Polyn, Memoirs of the Polynesian Society, vol. l5 (New Plymouth, N.Z., T. Avery & Sons Ltd, 1943)
S. Phelps, Art and artefacts of the Pacif (London, Hutchinson, 1976)
A. Wardwell, The sculpture of Polynesia (The Art Institute of Chicago, 1967)