Moai Kavakava

10th Tiberius Auction

Lot 1424 Auktion

Moai Kavakava

After Sale Price:  6.470

  • USD: 7.098 $
  • GBP: 5.591 £
USD: 7.098 $GBP: 5.591 £

Additional information



Moai Kavakava
Rapa Nui
Easter Island/Polynesia
19th century
Hardwood (toromiro), eyes with inlays of bone and obsidian
Brown patina from use, age cracks
Height 43 cm
Provenance: Collection Dr. P. Clarisse

This object belongs to a group of wooden statues that are considered one of the most enigmatic representations in the entire history of art. It is carved from the tropical wood toromiro, a species of tree that is now extinct. It is a representation of an almost skeletal man called Moai Kavakava, composed of the words Moai, which denotes a monumental anthropomorphic stone statue from Easter Island, and Kavakava (“ribs”). This had a highly symbolic meaning because, according to Rapa Nui oral traditions, the first Moai Kavakava was carved by one of the island’s first settlers and represents a dangerous spirit that the great hero is said to have encountered during a walk. The figures were worn on the bodies of the most influential men during important times of harvest. The number of carved objects as well as the quality of the carvings depended on social status. These objects were worn for display during festivals and rituals; the statue could not stand alone. This is probably a classic Easter Island art form whose style seems to have developed in the late 1820s.

Adrienne L. Kaeppler, Rapa Nui art and aesthetics, in: Eric Kjellgren (ed.), Splendid isolation. Art of Easter Island, New York 2001.
Adrienne L. Kaeppler, Sculptures of Barkcloth and Wood from Rapa Nui. Symbolic Continuities and Polynesian Affinities, in: RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 44 (2003), pp. 10-69.
Catherine Orliac & Michel Orliac, Rapa Nui l’île de Pâques, Paris 2008, pp. 17-29.
Catherine Orliac & Michel Orliac, Trésors de l’île de Pâques, Paris 2008, pp. 102-125.


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