Image (To'o) representing the deity 'Oro

Date: 18th century

Geography: Tahiti, Society Islands

Culture: Maohi (Tahitian)

Medium: Wood, coconut husk fiber, feathers

Dimensions: H. 18 1/8 x Diam. 2 7/8 in. (46 x 7.3 cm)

Classification: Wood-Sculpture

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.206.1481


Although human images in Polynesian sculpture are predominantly naturalistic, there are a number of instances in which artists took the human form to the limits of abstraction. In Tahiti, for example, the island's preeminent deity 'Oro, and divinities closely associated with him, were represented by oblong effigies known as to'o, consisting of a clublike wood core wrapped in layers of finely plaited coconut husk fiber. On some to'o, the features of the deity were suggested, as here, by strands of fiber applied to the surface. The supernatural power (mana) of the deity was contained in feathers, which were originally attached to the surface of the image.

Predominantly associated with warfare, 'Oro also served, in part, as the divine patron of the arioi, a semi-professional class of performing artists composed of young men and women. Permitted great personal freedom, but forbidden to have children, the arioi honored 'Oro as god of the origin, and fulfillment, of physical desire and of eternal youth.