Rare Canoe Prow, Marquesas Islands
'au'au or pihao
length 15 7/8in (39.5cm)
English Private Collection, acquired in the 1960s
This finely carved prow depicts a seated tiki of classic Marquesan form with oversized head with enlarged eyes, with arms resting on the front and the legs extending forward with its feet resting on two tiki heads. The figure is incised with linear tattooing throughout and fine dark brown patina with encrustations.
Cf. Kjellgren (2005: figs 69 and 70) for related examples.
According to Kjellgren (2005: pp. 101-102), "The tiki images that adorned the prows of Marquesan canoes constitute a distinct category within Marquesan sculpture. They consist of dynamic, seated figures shown with their legs extended forward to the base of a long projection that terminates in an upturned human face. In contrast to the more static, frontal orientation of freestanding wood and stone tiki, those of the prow ornaments convey a sense of movement and activity. Carved as part of separate prow pieces...which were attached to the bows of canoes, these tiki were intended primarily to be viewed in profile as the vessels sped through the water, their bodies portrayed as though thrown backward by the acceleration of the canoe. Unlike the majority of Marquesan tiki, in which the head occupies a third or more of the body height, the proportions of the 'au'au figures are more naturalistic, although the head remains somewhat enlarged. The legs, reduced or absent in many tiki, are shown full-scale and fully modeled. The arms, by contrast, are stylized, and their treatment and positions are similar to those on the wood and stone figures or stilt steps."