Date: late 18th–early 19th century
Geography: Marquesas Islands
Culture: Marquesan (Enata) people
Dimensions: H. 7 5/8 x L. 13 1/2 in. (19.4 x 34.3 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Evelyn A. J. Hall, 1986
Accession Number: 1986.476.4a, b
Among the most elegant works from the Marquesas Islands are the bird-shaped bowls known as kotue. Only about a dozen examples survive, all of which exhibit the same unusual imagery in which a small human head is depicted on the end of a lidded bowl, whose gracefully curving form otherwise suggests the body and tail of a bird. Only about a dozen of these remarkable vessels are known.
Versatile as well as elegant, bird-shaped bowls were first described by European explorers in the eighteenth century and a number of different functions are assigned to them in the historic sources. Fitted with removable lids to protect their contents, kotue were used to store a variety of items, including popoi, a paste made from pounded breadfruit that is a staple of the Marquesan diet. They were also used to safeguard ornaments and other valuables as well as 'eka (turmeric), a precious yellow-orange powder used to adorn the skin.