God image

Cook Islands, Polynesia
Late 18th/early 19th century AD

In parts of eastern Polynesia the most important god images were abstract, not naturalistic human figures. They incorporated materials such as feathers, coconut fibre bindings and barkcloth. These materials not only enabled the invisible bodies of the gods to take visible form, but also provided a place for the gods' power to be present. It was, in fact, the materials that were significant to islanders, rather than the wooden frames to which they were bound.

The cloth bindings enabled people to capture, constrain and release the gods' power through wrapping and unwrapping, binding and unbinding.

Almost all the surviving examples of this type of god image were collected by the London Missionary Society, including this one. The Society's missionaries first arrived in the Cook Islands in 1821. The Reverend John Williams visited in 1823 and during his time there he collected thirty-one such images, presented to him by islanders who had recently converted to Christianity.

Unfortunately, little is now known about how such objects were used.

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More information


Dr S. Hooper, Pacific Encounters: Art and Di (London, The British Museum Press, 2006)

P.H. Buck, Arts and crafts of the Cook Is (Honolulu, B.P. Bishop Museum, 1944, Bulletin no. 179; New York, Kraus Reprint, 1971)


Length: 30.500 cm

Museum number



Purchased from the London Missionary Society, 1911


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