Wooden figure

From Rarotonga, Cook Islands, Polynesia
Possibly 18th or early 19th century AD

The Cook Islands were settled around the period AD 800-1000. Captain Cook made the first official European sighting of the islands in 1773, but spent little time in the area during his voyages. In 1821 the London Missionary Society set up a mission station on the island of Aitutaki, followed by one on Rarotonga in 1827. The Cook Islands became a British Protectorate in 1888, and were annexed in 1901. Since then they have been administered by New Zealand. They became self-governing for internal affairs in 1965, while New Zealand continues to look after their external affairs.

This male figure has three carved figures on the chest and two on each of the arms. Only one other similar figure is known, which has carved figures on the chest and buttocks. An old label describes the figure as a depiction of the Rarotongan god Te Rongo and his three sons. However, the scholar Peter Buck argues that this attribution is due to confusion between Te Rongo and the god Rongo, of Mangaia, another of the Cook Islands. It has also been suggested that the figure represents the Polynesian god of creation, Tangaroa.

The figure is carved from polished ironwood. It has plaited coconut fibre armbands with barkcloth binding, into which feathers have been tucked. It is similar in style to the fisherman's god figure in the Museum's collection.

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More information


D. Idiens, 'A recently discovered figure from Rarotonga', Journal of the Polynesian Soci, 85 (1976), pp. 359-66

T. Barrow, The art of Tahiti and the neig (London, Thames and Hudson, 1979)

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

D. Idiens, Cook Islands art (Princes Risborough, Shire Publications Ltd., 1990)


Height: 69.000 cm

Museum number



Purchased from the London Missionary Society


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