Power and Taboo: Sacred Objects from the Pacific

Gods inside, gods outside,
Gods above, gods below,
Gods oceanward, gods landward,
Gods incarnate, gods not incarnate,
Gods punishing sins, gods pardoning sins,
Gods devouring men, gods slaying warriors,
Gods saving men,
Gods of darkness and light, gods of the ten skies,

Can the gods all be counted?
The gods cannot all be counted!
(chant from the Society Islands)

For the inhabitants of the Polynesian islands in the eastern Pacific, the gods were always present in the world. But, while their powers could be life-enhancing, they were also potentially dangerous and had to be contained. Godly power was controlled by means of the concept of tapu, from which the word taboo is derived.

This tour contains a selection of objects from the British Museum's unparalleled collection of art and artefacts from the eastern Pacific. Most of them were collected between 1760 and 1860 by the earliest European missionaries and explorers and therefore come from a time before the influence of European settlers had been exerted upon the islands.