Extremely Fine and Rare Stilt Step, tapuva'e, Marquesas Islands
height 14 3/4in (37.5cm)
exquisitely carved from one piece of wood, probably from the mi'o tree (Thespesia populnea), depicting a traditional tiki figure with his hands to his stomach, the head attached to the bottom of the elegantly curved footrest, the buttocks and legs carved in very high relief below; exceedingly fine proportions with heavily adzed reddish-brown patina, evident of a highly-skilled artist working with stone and shell tools, most likely between the latter half of the 18th century or early 19th century.
Private Collection, acquired in the UK in 1969.
According to Pelrine (Affinities of Form, 1996, p 84), "Stilt games in the Marquesas Islands consisted of races and competitions in which one man would try to knock down his opponent by balancing on one stilt while using the other to strike the stilts of his rival. Particularly skillful stilt-walkers could also entertain by performing somersaults and other acrobatics. Stilt contests, along with singing and dancing, are said to have been the major entertainment at koina and mau, festivals marking special events such as weddings, milestones in the lives of children from important families, and the death of a chief or a tau'a, a priest through whom the gods were believed to speak (Landsdorff 1813, 1: 136; Handy 1923, 218; Ferdon 1993, 68). Thus, stilt contests were entertaining, but many were also sacred activities (Handy 1927, 306-7). They were believed to be a means of attracting the attention of deities, as well as a demonstration of the mana of the individual contestants and the families and groups they represented.
While stilt contests were also popular in other parts of Polynesia, such as the Society Islands, Hawaii, and New Zealand, only on the Marquesas did the stilts themselves become an art form."
Cf. Kaeppler, Blackburn Collection, 2011, figs 290-296.