Mangareva, Gambier Islands, French Polynesia
H. 38 3/4 in. (98.4 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1466)
The people of Mangareva, the largest of the Gambier Islands southeast of Tahiti, formerly venerated a diversity of supernatural beings, including major deities (etua), ancestors, and the spirits of the children of chiefs who died before birth. Nearly all Mangarevan sculpture was destroyed in 1835–36 at the behest of Christian missionaries and only roughly a dozen examples survive.
The identity of the being portrayed by this figure is unknown. However, the figure is similar to images identified in historic sources as Rogo, an agricultural deity who brought the rains that sustained the growth of crops. Rogo was particularly associated with breadfruit, one of the Mangarevans' staple foods, and his presence was symbolized by rainbows and mists. Clad in garments of barkcloth, Mangarevan images were kept in special structures at sacred sites under the care of religious specialists as well as in shrines erected in villages, possibly devoted to deities or ancestors associated with individual families.