Polynesia, Marquesas Islands, Fatu Hiva, ca. late 18th to early 19th century CE. The upper half of a large wooden idol - a tiki figure, or ancestor. The eyes draw in the viewer, outlined by arched brows. The mouth is a wide, horizontal line, full of teeth and with thin lips. The body below that is anthropomorphic, with hands clasped at the center. Tiki figures originated in the Marquesas, and spread throughout most of Polynesia, often with local twists (for example, the moai of Easter Island are believed to be a form of tiki). They represent the ancestor Ti'i who is half human, half god and represents the first man. He is often shown with his hands on his stomach and his legs crouched, as here. His head is large to emphasize his power; his large eyes represent his great knowledge. Most tiki figures are carved from volcanic stone; wood examples are rarer. Size: 7.55" W x 22.5" H (19.2 cm x 57.2 cm)
The Marquesas islands are particularly famous for wooden carvings, most of which are made from miro (Oceania rosewood), tou (Oceania walnut), aito (iron wood), and the coconut tree. Tiki statues like this one were placed outside of houses, made to protect the inhabitants. In the southern Marquesas and Ua Huka (which is geographically closer to the north but culturally similar to the south), the term me'ae was used to describe a sacred place; these were often located outside of villages and surrounded by palisades, with a house with protective, lifesize wooden tiki located in the center. These buildings served as shrines for the village. A tiki like this one may have protected such a place in the past.
This piece was purchased from Bonhams (November 14, 2013, lot 56) for over $9500.
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-Mark Blackburn collection, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA; ex-Bonhams, November 14, 2013, lot 56
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