Search our collections

Advanced Search

Object: Moai kavakava (human figure)

This image has Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Creative Commons BY-NC-ND copyright licence

Title Moai kavakava (human figure)
Production Unknown, 1800s, Easter Island
Medium summary wood, bone, shell, obsidian
Materials wood, bone, shell, obsidian
Classification ceremonial objects, carvings, figurines
Technique carving
Dimensions Overall: 405mm (Height) x 80mm (Width) x 100mm (Depth)
Credit line Oldman Collection. Gift of the New Zealand Government, 1992
Registration number OL000342

Moai kavakava are carved wooden figures, generally considered to be representations of ancestors, although their symbolism is not known. This example shows a male figure with prominent rib cage and backbone, and features relief carving on the top of the head. It was probably made in the early nineteenth century on Rapanui (Easter Island).

This moai kavakava is one of the earlier documented figures of its type, having reached England in 1828 or 1835. It is thought to have been collected during F W Beechey's expedition in HMS Blossom in 1825, but in view of the brief and confrontational nature of Beechey's visit to Rapanui, this seems unlikely.

An old label previously attached to the figure and apparently written by William Dawson, the collector who brought it to England, offers the following description of its use: 'Figure was used by the Priest in certain Diseases; for lizards are accounted as virulent Deities that enter the orifices of the human body, devouring the inside until a priest intercedes and by means foul and fair drives the intruder from his quarters.'

The figure was purchased by the New Zealand government in 1948 from London dealer and collector W O Oldman for an undisclosed sum.

Related information

Disclaimer: This information was created from historic documentation, and may not necessarily reflect the best available knowledge about the item. Some collection images are created for identification purposes only and may not be of reproduction quality. Some images are not available due to copyright restrictions. If you have information or questions about objects in the collection, contact us using our enquiry form. You can also find out more about Collections Online.