Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Height: 130.000 cm
Acquired from the London Missionary Society
AOA LMS 223
Wooden temple image
From the island of Hawaii, Hawaiian Islands,
Probably AD 1795-1819
Probably representing Ku, as Kuka'ilimoku, the 'snatcher of land'
Hawaiian heiau (open-air temples) were dedicated to the three main Hawaiian deities: Ku who represented war or aggression, Kane who represented life-giving or procreation, and Lono who represented prosperity or agricultural plenty. This image probably represents Ku, in his aspect as Kuka'ilimoku, the 'snatcher of land'. King Kamehameha I (reigned 1795-1819) adopted him as his personal god, and it is likely that this figure was carved during his reign. Typically, it is carved from one piece of wood, including the support post.
Representations of the three deities were displayed in the heiau; the size of this figure suggests that it was either a secondary image flanking a central figure at the main gate, or a main figure in a smaller temple. Temple worship was restricted to the chiefly classes in Hawaii, and was accompanied by elaborate ceremony and offerings. In the case of temples dedicated to the god Ku, the offerings would have been in the form of human sacrifice.
The figure was collected by Daniel Tyerman and George Bennet of the London Missionary Society during their tour of inspection of the Society's mission stations from 1821 to 1829. The L.M.S. had been established in 1795, and quickly set up mission stations in the Pacific, Africa and India. Tyerman and Bennet arrived in Hawaii in 1822, and stayed there for five months. During this time they had contact with Hawaiian royalty and chiefs. The catalogue of the Society's museum recorded that the image was 'Taken with permission of the Governor Kuakene from the walls of an ancient marae [heiau] at Kairua, Hawaii ... one of the idols which adorned Kailis [Kuka'ilimoku's] marae at Kawaihae at Hawaii'. The adoption of Christianity by Hawaiians in the early nineteenth century had led to the increasing rejection of temple images.
P.H. Buck, Arts and crafts of Hawaii (Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press, 1957)
J.H. Cox and W.H. Davenport, Hawaiian sculpture (Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1988)