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Male Figure (Moai Tangata)

Date:
early 19th century
Geography:
Chile, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Culture:
Rapa Nui people
Medium:
Wood, obsidian, bone
Dimensions:
H. 16 x W. 3 7/8 x D. 2 1/2 in. (40.6 x 9.9 x 6.4 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
Gift of Faith-dorian and Martin Wright, in honor of Livio Scamperle, 1984
Accession Number:
1984.526
  • Description

    Of all Rapa Nui wood sculptures, the naturalistic male figures known as moai tangata, with their enlarged heads, frontal stance, and prominent stomachs, bear the closest formal resemblance to the island's well-known stone figures. Little is known about the nature and use of moai tangata, but they likely portray ancestors or other powerful supernatural beings. This example has a hole drilled through the neck, indicating that like other Rapa Nui figures, it may have been worn as a pendant during harvest festivals and other ceremonies.
    What appears to be the figure's hair consists of a group of three images depicting fish-like creatures with human heads and long flowing beards. These distinctive fish-men, virtually identical to examples that appear in Rapa Nui rock art, possibly represent spirits called nuihi, which combine the features of humans and sharks.

  • Provenance

    Scamperle M. Livio, Santiago, Chile; Martin and Faith-dorian Wright, New York, until 1984

  • See also
    Who
    What
    Where
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
    MetPublications
314826

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