Female Figure (Moai Papa), Wood, glass, paint, Rapa Nui people

Female Figure (Moai Papa)

19th century
Chile, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Rapa Nui people
Wood, glass, paint
H. 23 5/8 x W. 5 7/8 x D. 3 1/4 in. (60 x 14.9 x 8.3 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 353
The dramatically flattened bodies of Rapa Nui female figures (moai papa) contrast with their fully modeled heads. The word papa in the Rapa Nui language literally denotes a flat horizontal surface of volcanic rock, but it may also indirectly refer to Papa, the female personification of the earth in many Polynesian cultures. Although indisputably female, moai papa also display masculine features, including goatee beards and, typically, bald heads. The incorporation of male elements into the figures may indicate that the female deities or ancestors they likely represented were perceived as the equals of their male counterparts.
The cavities in the cheek and right leg of the present work and wood plugs in other areas of its body indicate that it is likely an early example, made before large unblemished blocks of wood, once rare on the largely treeless island, became widely available through trade with Western vessels.
[Charles Ratton, Paris]; [Matthias Komor, New York, until 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1957, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1978

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

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 11.

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. 12, pp. 50–51.

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, no. 196, pp. 320–321.

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, p. 167.