The Hawaiians venerated, and in some cases still honor, a multitude of supernatural beings, or akua. During religious observances, akua often manifested themselves in carved figures or other objects, which served as vessels for their supernatural power (mana). Sacred images in human or animal form were known as ki'i. Some ki'i, often called akua ka'ai, were carved atop a pointed stake, which could be inserted into the ground or the thatched walls of houses or other structures to allow the figure to stand upright.
Small akua ka'ai, such as the present work, may have been used for private devotion. If so, they may portray 'aumakua, supernatural beings associated with individual families or activities. The ridge on the head of this figure may portray the crested helmet (mahiole) worn by high-ranking male chiefs. If so, the image may depict an ancestral chief or a deity clad in chiefly regalia.
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Title:Stick God (Akua Ka'ai)
Date:18th–early 19th century
Geography:United States, Hawai'i
Dimensions:H. 12 1/8 × W. 1 11/16 × D. 1 1/4 in. (30.8 × 4.3 × 3.2 cm)
Credit Line:The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Midshipman John Knowles, HMS Blonde, collected in 1825, on Sandwich Islands Voyage; Harry G. Beasley, Cranmore Museum, Chiselhurst, UK; [John J. Klejman, New York, until 1961]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1961, on permanent loan to the Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1961–1978
Museum of Primitive Art. "Masterpieces from the South Seas in the Collection of the MOPA," May 19, 1965–October 3, 1965.
Museum of Primitive Art. "The World of Primitive Art," July 12, 1966–September 11, 1966.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of Oceania, Africa and the Americas from The Museum of Primitive Art," May 10–August 17, 1969.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sculpture of Oceania," April 4–September 5, 1972.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of Oceania, Africa and the Americas," September 22, 1972–1974.
Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego. "Dimensions of Polynesia," October 7–November 25, 1973.
Seattle Art Museum. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," January 5, 1975–February 16, 1975.
American Federation of Arts. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," January 5, 1975–May 15, 1977.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," March 23, 1975–May 4, 1975.
Dallas Museum of Art. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," June 8, 1975–July 20, 1975.
Art Institute of Chicago. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," August 25, 1975–October 10, 1975.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," November 9, 1975–December 21, 1975.
Toledo Museum of Art. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," April 11, 1976–May 25, 1976.
Walker Art Center. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," June 27, 1976–August 8, 1976.
Denver Art Museum. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," September 10, 1976–November 7, 1976.
de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," March 12, 1977–May 15, 1977.
Lois, Rosemary and George. "Curiosities from the Sandwich Islands." The Mirror
Luquiens, Huc-Mazelet. "Carving." In Ancient Hawaiian Civilization: A Series of Lectures Delivered at the Kamehameha Schools. Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools, 1933.
Emory. "Hawaii: God Sticks." Ethnologia Cranmorensis vol. 3 (1938), pp. 9–10. pl. III.
Wardwell, Allen. The Sculpture of Polynesia. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1967, p. 66, no. 79.
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. 2.
American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 103.
Rose, Roger G. Hawai'i: The Royal Isles. Vol. vol. 67. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1980.
Friede, John A. New Guinea Art: Masterpieces from the Jolika Collection of Marcia and John Friede. Vol. vol. 2. San Francisco: de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2005, vol. 2, p. 116, no. 213.
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, pp. 316–317, no. 193.
Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, p. 148.
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