Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    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.

  • Ethnic name

  • Date

    • 18thC(late)-19thC(mid)
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 43 centimetres
    • Width: 8.2 centimetres (at shoulders)
    • Depth: 7 centimetres (at chest)
    • Weight: 460 grammes
  • Curator's comments

    Hooper 2006
    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 were 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?:
    Easter Island
    Standing male figure, very emaciated: of hard dark brown wood: pendant ears; on the head a quadruped monster [carved] in low relief.


  • Bibliography

    • Hooper 2006 95 bibliographic details
    • Newell 2011 pp. 68-69 bibliographic details
  • Location

    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

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    'Presented by A.W. Franks Esq. 18 Sept. 1885'. 'Brought by a sailor from Easter Island'.

  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Oc1885C2.2595 (old CDMS no.)
Standing male figure, moai kavakava, made of wood, bone.

3/4: Left

Standing male figure, moai kavakava, made of wood, bone.

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