- Museum number
Standing male figure 'moai kavakava' of wood, with eye sockets inlaid with bone and formerly inlaid with obsidian. The nostrils are pigmented with red ochre. A suspension lug is carved at the nape of the neck. The top of the head has a carved figure in low relief with outstretched arms.
- Production date
Height: 43 centimetres
Weight: 460 grammes
Width: 8.20 centimetres (at shoulders)
Depth: 7 centimetres (at chest)
- Curator's comments
This is a finely carved example of perhaps the most well-known type of wooden image from Easter Island called moai kavakava. The hips, spine, upper body and head have cadaverous characteristics which have given rise to much speculation about emaciation and famine. Polynesian sculpture does not generally attempt naturalistic representations of the human form, even though in the wood sculpture of Mangareva and Easter Island there are stronger elements of naturalistic representation.
Rather than emaciation, the figures may portray the cadavers of deceased ancestors, manipulated in secondary burial rites. This figure, as most of this type, has a suspension lug carved at the nape of the neck. On top of the head is a figure in low relief with outstretched arms. There is red ochre in the nostrils; obsidian inlay is missing from both eyes.
Information from Pacific Art in Detail: In Rapa Nui, knowledge of the reason for the 'moai kavakava's' bodily form has been lost. Some scholars argue that they represent the emaciation characteristics of the era of famines and diseases, when the birdman religion developed. Others feel that the prominent spine and obvious genitals are common in the Polynesia-wide imagery of genealogy, and relate to Rapanui concern with fertility, ancestral community, and transformation. What is likely is that the priest or chiefs would wear a 'moai kavakava' as a pendant, with string threaded through a lug on the back of the nuck, during feasts and other gatherings of descent groups to honour ancestors.
The symbols carved on the head of the figure probably relate to the birdman religion.
Christy collection registration slip, written in 1885?:
Standing male figure, very emaciated: of hard dark brown wood: pendant ears; on the head a quadruped monster [carved] in low relief.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2008 16 Jun-14 Sep, Paris, Musée du quai Branly, Pacific Encounters
2006 21 May-13 Aug, Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Pacific Encounters
2011 24 Sept-31 Dec, Denmark, Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Gauguin and Polynesia: South Pacific Encounters
2012 9 Feb-29 Apr USA, Seattle, Seattle Art Museum, Gauguin and Polynesia: South Pacific Encounters
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- 'Presented by A.W. Franks Esq. 18 Sept. 1885'. 'Brought by a sailor from Easter Island'.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
CDMS number: Oc1885C2.2595 (old CDMS no.)