Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Height: 118.000 cm
Purchased from the London Missionary Society
AOA LMS 99
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Wooden figure of a deity
From Mangareva, French
Possibly 18th or early 19th century AD
Mangareva is a group of small islands in eastern Polynesia, which was inhabited from at least AD 1200. The first Europeans to land there were the crew of HMS Blossom, captained by Frederick W. Beechey, in December 1824. The next significant visitors were missionaries, in particular the Belgian representatives of the Catholic order of Picpus, who converted the islanders to Christianity. In 1835 Father Honoré Laval and Father Francois d'Assize Caret burned most of the wooden deity figures then in existence. The following year Father Caret sent a few to Europe as evidence of the heathen deities formerly worshipped by the islanders. With them he sent a numbered list, which has helped to identify which deities they represent.
This figure has not been identified, though it does resemble another figure sent to Europe by Father Caret, said to represent the deity Rongo or Rogo, the god of agriculture, rain and turmeric. Other figures of this type have been identified as representations of the god Tu (the god of breadfruit and the principal god of Mangareva).
There are two distinct types of (surviving) standing wooden deity figures. This is one of the first type: male and fairly naturalistic in proportions. A number of them are missing one or both hands or arms, and sometimes parts of the feet are missing. The second and rarer type of figure is highly stylized, particularly in the representation of the upper body.
D.B. Waite, 'Three images from Mangareva: a reappraisal' in Artistic heritage in a changin (Bathurst, Crawford House Press, 1993), pp. 106-15
P.H. Buck, Ethnology of Mangareva (Honolulu, Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Bulletin 157, 1938)
F. W. Beechey, Narrative of a voyage to the P (London, Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1831)
T. Barrow, Art and life in Polynesia (London, Pall Mall Press, 1972)