Male Figure, Easter Island
Lot 157Y
Male Figure, Easter Island
Sold for US$ 27,500 inc. premium

Lot Details
Male Figure, Easter Island
moai kavakava
Wood, shell, obsidian, bone
Height 9 7/8in (25cm)

Provenance
Reportedly recovered from a cave in Rapa Nui in the 1920s
Private California Collection
John Giltsoff, Girona, Spain
Private Collection, London

Eric Kjellgren notes, 'Moai Kavakava--literally "image with ribs"--are the most abundant of Easter Island's diverse moai miro, or wood images. According to some accounts, these gaunt, at times almost skeletal, male figures represent the spirits of the dead. These spirits, some of whom were likely venerated as ancestors, were believed to take the form of emaciated humans with protruding bones. Indeed, with their grimacing faces, prominent rib cages, and distended abdomens, it seems reasonable to suppose the figures may depict corpses.

In one oral tradition, the first moai kavakava are said to have been carved by Tuu-ko-ihu, one of the original settlers, as likenesses of two dangerous spirits, Hitirau and Nuku-te-mango, whom he had encountered while out walking. Tuu-ko-ihu subsequently became a master wood-carver and was believed to have had the power to make the images walk like living beings.

Little is known about the precise functions of moai kavakava. One source reports that their use was restricted to men and that they were worn around the neck as part of festival dress at feasts and other important occasions. The backs of most examples [as in the work being presented here] bear a single hole that might have been used to suspend them in this way.

The heads of moai kavakava exemplify the distinctive stylistic features of Easter Island's anthropomorphic wood images, including bald crania, prominent brow ridges, and goatee-like beards, as well as artificially extended earlobes.' (Splendid Isolation: Art of Easter Island, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001, 48-9)

The present work is finely stone carved in an elongated, slender form with the nape of the neck carved with a suspension lug, the eyes are composed of shell rings and inset with obsidian discs; ancient damage to the right side with a repair plug still evident in the arm, the right leg and arm mostly missing; fine, smooth and rich brown patina.
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