Human figure (ki'i 'aumakua)

From Hawaii, Polynesia
Possibly late 18th or early 19th century AD

This type of image is known in Hawaiian as ki'i 'aumakua. In contrast to the temple images which represent the major god Ku, this image was probably used to invoke lesser gods for family or personal reasons. Such gods generally had a protective function, but could also be used for sorcery. It is usual for the mouth to be open and for the tongue to project.

The wooden figure has human hair secured to the head with tiny wooden pegs. The eyes are pearl-shell with seed pupils. The mouth was originally fitted with a removable wooden tongue, now missing. The loincloth is made from thin, beaten strips of bark, known in Hawaiian as kapa. This type of garment is called a maro.

The figure was collected by John Knowles, a midshipman of HMS Blonde. The ship sailed to Hawaii in 1825, commanded by Captain Lord Byron, to repatriate the bodies of King Kamehameha II (Liholiho) and his wife, Kamalulu. The Hawaiian king and queen had died of measles on their visit to England (for more on their stay in England, see the article about the feather cape). Byron and his crew were given permission to take what they wanted from Hale-O-Keawe at Honaunau, the sacred burial place of the high-ranking Hawaiian chiefs.

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More information


P.H. Buck, Arts and crafts of Hawaii (Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press, 1957)

A.L. Kaeppler, Eleven gods assembled: an exhi (Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press, 1979)

H.G. Beasley, 'A carved wooden figure from Hawaii', Man-4, 32 (February 1932), no. 43, p. 33

J.H. Cox and W.H. Davenport, Hawaiian sculpture (Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1988)


Height: 41.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 1944.Oc2.716


Collected by John Knowles on HMS Blonde


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