Gable Figure (Dilukái), 19th–early 20th century
Belauan people, Belau (Palau), Caroline Islands
Wood, paint; H. 25 2/3 in. (65.2 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, by exchange, and Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1970 (1978.412.1558a–d)
In former times, male life in Belau focused on the ornate men's houses (bai), used for meetings, feasts, and informal social gatherings. Bai had large triangular facades adorned with brightly painted architectural carvings. On some bai, a separately carved figure of a woman (dilukái) was attached to the gable above the entrance.
The signficance of the dilukái is uncertain. In some oral traditions, a woman named Dilukái is the sister of Atmatuyuk, a troublesome man who fled to a bai with his sister and was later expelled. To prevent his return, the residents placed a naked image of Dilukái over the entrance, it being forbidden for a brother to see his sister unclothed. Dilukái figures also appear to have been associated with the sun and the cultivation of taro. In other interpretations, likely reflecting missionary influences, the dilukái is said to depict a promiscuous woman whose image was placed on the bai as a mark of shame to warn the village women to be more chaste.
This dilukái wears a red báchel (a prestigious valuable) around her neck, and a deruál (a valuable armband made from stacked rings of turtle shell) on her arm, ornaments which indicate that, whatever her precise identity, the figure portrays a woman of status and power.