Title / object name
Moai kavakava (human figure)Medium Summary
wood, bone, shell, obsidianMaterials
wood, bone, shell, obsidian
|Overall ||405 (Height) x 80 (Width) x 100 (Depth) mm|
ceremonial objects, carvings, figurines
Oldman Collection. Gift of the New Zealand Government, 1992
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.