Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
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Power and Taboo: sacred objects from the Pacific
Wooden human figure
The British Museum's unparalleled collection of art and artefacts from the eastern Pacific has continued to provide inspiration to both Polynesian and European artists and poets as well as researchers. This wooden figure was a favourite of English sculptor Henry Moore who was a frequent visitor to the Museum.
The figure was described in the account of Captain Cook's third voyage (1776-80) to the region, published after Cook's death. In 1779 members of the expedition visited Hale-o-Keawe, the royal mausoleum, at Honaunau, Hawaii. They saw a figure, now believed to be this one: '... a black figure of a man resting on his fingers and toes, with his head inclined backwards; the limbs well formed and exactly proportioned, the whole beautifully polished ... and around it placed thirteen others of rude and distorted shapes ...'.
Hale-o-Keawe was also visited by the crew of HMS Blonde, commanded by Captain Lord Byron. Andrew Bloxam, their naturalist, wrote that this figure was used by the kings to rest upon before making a sacrifice as part of worship. He describes the removal of artefacts in 1824, which were transported to England. This figure was among them.