Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Temple image figure (ki'i), Ku-ka'ili-moku (the god Ku, the island snatcher) carved from a single piece of breadfruit wood (Artocarpus altilis). Kona in style, with an open-mouthed grimace, slightly flexed arms and legs. Four rows of stylised pigs or dogs heads run from the bridge of the nose across tops of eyes and top of head, the bottom row merging with eyes, before drooping down to heels.


  • School/style

  • Ethnic name

  • Date

    • 1790-1819
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 267 centimetres
    • Width: 69 centimetres
    • Depth: 55 centimetres
    • Weight: 196 kilograms
    • Length: 306 centimetres (crate)
    • Width: 106 centimetres (crate)
    • Height: 82 centimetres (crate)
  • Curator's comments

    Information from Pacific Art in Detail: Carved out of a single piece of breadfruit wood, this 'ki'i' can be linked to the distinctive style of the Kona region, Hawaii. The aggressive mouth demonstrated the god's power and his taut stance showed his strength and readiness for action. Ku's hair is shown as four rows of animal heads, probably dogs or pigs, some of the body forms Ku could adopt.
    This figure was originally used by the priest to call the god of war on the ceremonial ground 'heiau'. The huge temple figures still hold deep significance for many Hawaiians today. In 2010, the Bishop Museum (Honolulu) brought together the three remaining sculpture of Ku, reuniting them for the first time in more than 170 years.
    In 2010 as a thank you for loaning the Ku figure, the Bishop Museum gifted four items to show appreciation for the loan; 2010,2046.1, 2010,2037.1, 2, 3a and b.

    Notes from Steven Hooper 2006:
    One of only three surviving colossal images of the god Ku ('ki'i').The others are in Honolulu and Salem.
    Its size was a result of the availability of metal tools and Kamehameha's early nineteenth-century programme of building temples dedicated to Kukailimoku, his tutelary deity (see above, p.58; Kaeppler, A.L., 1982, 'Genealogy and disrespect: a study of symbolism in Hawaiian images,' RES, 3: 98-100).
    Originally based on Hawai'i, Kamehameha extended his rule over the whole group to become the first king of Hawaii and establish a ruling dynasty.
    A head of a pig or dog, both sacrificial animals, appears above the nose of this image, and the cascading rows of projections may symbolize others. The genitals are disproportionately small, yet the posture is vigorous. The wood has been identified as breadfruit (Artocarpus sp.).

    Extracts from the British & Medieval Register 1757-1878, p.19
    '1839.4-26.8. Wood large idol, with huge grotesque head, hair in two long plaits, standing on rough base: height 8 ft 11 in. From Otaheite: presented by W. Howard, Esq.'
    See J.H. Cox and W.H. Davenport, Hawaiian Sculpture, Honolulu, The University of Hawaii Press, 1974,
    p.41: 'This image may have been taken to England by King Litholiho (Kamehameha II) in 1824, as a gift to King George IV.'
    p. 122: 'T.5 Temple Image
    Illustrated in J.C.H. King (ed), 'Human Image', London, British Museum Press, 2000, p.67


  • Bibliography

    • Hooper 2006 20 bibliographic details
    • Thomas 1995 p. 162 bibliographic details
    • D'Alleva 1998 p. 99 bibliographic details
    • Brunt et al, 2012 p.250 bibliographic details
    • Newell 2011 pp. 48-49 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history


    1975 – 1985 12 Dec-23 Jun, London, BM, Museum of Mankind, Hawaii
    2003 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2004 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2004 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2004 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2006 21 May-13 Aug, Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Pacific Encounters
    2006-2007 28 Sept-7 Jan, London, BM, Power and Taboo
    2008 16 Jun-14 Sep, Paris, Musée du quai Branly, Pacific Encounters
    2010 5 June-4 Oct, Honolulu, Bishop Museum, E Ku Ana Ka Paia

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


COMPASS Image Caption: Figure of the war god Ku-ka'ili-moku


COMPASS Image Caption: Figure of the war god Ku-ka'ili-moku

Image description



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Object reference number: EOC821

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