Maohi (Tahitian) people, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Wood, coconut husk fiber, traces of feathers
H. 18 1/8 in. (46 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1481)
Although human images in Polynesian sculpture are predominantly naturalistic, there are a number of instances in which artists took the human form to the limits of abstraction. In Tahiti, for example, the island's preeminent deity 'Oro, and divinities closely associated with him, were represented by oblong effigies known as to'o, consisting of a clublike wood core wrapped in layers of finely plaited coconut husk fiber. On some to'o, the features of the deity were suggested, as here, by strands of fiber applied to the surface. The supernatural power (mana) of the deity was contained in feathers, which were originally attached to the surface of the image.
Predominantly associated with warfare, 'Oro also served, in part, as the divine patron of the arioi, a semi-professional class of performing artists composed of young men and women. Permitted great personal freedom, but forbidden to have children, the arioi honored 'Oro as god of the origin, and fulfillment, of physical desire and of eternal youth.