Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Height: 272.000 cm
Gift of W. Howard
AOA Ethno 1839,4-26.8
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Figure of the war god Ku-ka'ili-moku
Hawai'i, probably AD 1790-1810
'snatcher of land'
This large and intimidating figure was erected by King Kamehameha I, unifier of the Hawaiian islands at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. Kamehameha built a number of temples to his god, Ku-ka'ili-moku ('Ku, the snatcher of land'), in the Kona district, Hawai'i, seeking the god's support in his further military ambitions. The figure is likely to have been a subsidiary image in the most sacred part of one of these temples: not so much a representation of the god as a vehicle for the god to enter.
The figure is characteristic of the god Ku, especially by his disrespectful open mouth, but his hair, incorporating stylized pigs heads, suggests an additional identification with the god Lono. The pigs heads are possibly symbolic of wealth.
J.C.H. King (ed.), Human image (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)
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
J.H. Cox and W.H. Davenport, Hawaiian sculpture (Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1988)