Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Dance Paddle (Rapa)

early 19th century
Chile, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Rapa Nui people
H. 28 1/4 in. (71.8 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Mrs.Gertrud A. Mellon, 1972
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 353
Essential to many dances and ceremonies, dance paddles (rapa) were usually carried in pairs to accent the movements of performers who spun them on their axes to the rhythm of a chanted accompaniment. Rapa were used by both men and women, although the sexes seldom performed together. Men also reportedly used rapa in funerary rituals, during which they kept a vigil over the body of a slain comrade. Their bodies covered in black ash, the mourners carried dance paddles as they intoned sacred chants intended to assist them in avenging the victim's death.
Rapa portray highly stylized human figures, reduced to two blade-like lobes representing the head and abdomen. The facial features are reduced to a single brow-line that incorporates the nose and extends down either side of the head to two small hemispherical knobs that represent ear ornaments.
Gertrud A. Mellon, New York, until 1972; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1972–1978

Métraux, Alfred. "Ethnology of Easter Island." Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin vol. 160 (1940), p. 264, 267.

Kjellgren, Eric, Jo Anne Van Tilburg, and Adrienne L. Kaeppler. Splendid Isolation: Art of Easter Island. New York, New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001, no. 43, p. 73.

Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 198, 323.

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 166–67.

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