280. Deity (dinonga eidu)

280. Deity (dinonga eidu)

H: 58.4 cm
Nukuoro (Caroline Islands)
Early 19th century

Ex collection:
Lord and Lady Brassey, London (1876-1919)
Hastings Museum, England (1919-1948/51)
James Hooper (1948/51-1953) [1]
Marie-Ange Ciolkowska (1953-1984)

Made of a reddish brown wood probably of the bread-fruit tree, native to the Nukuoro atoll.

Condition: a sliver missing down the front of the neck; two holes above the left breast which is dented, a blow to the back upper left arm, a chip off the lower left buttock, the odd nick here and there. The left side of the stand, carved at one with the figure, missing. A round hole c. 3.5 cm deep drilled in the break. Iron nails, obviously Post-Contact additions, embedded one on either side of the throat and under each buttock.

On the back of the stand inscribed in ink the number E 257 (see footnote 14).

The Carolines are one of the four major groups of Micronesian islands, since the 16th century a few of these were called on or sailed by. The Marianas north of the Carolines were visited by Magellan in 1521, became a Spanish colony in 1564 and were a stop on the route to the Philippines. Missionaries tried to convert the islanders, but on the whole failed.

Nukuoro, or the Monteverde Island discovered by a Spaniard of that name in 1806, is a Polynesian outlier in the Eastern Caroline Islands. Their inhabitants are Polynesian in culture and speak a Polynesian language. The people were particularly handsome and the men over six foot tall, of a friendly and cheerful disposition possibly because of the harshness and precariousness of life. Some of the atolls had no water and very little earth and were constantly subject to the unpredictability of Nature.

In the early 19th century various sailors or ships stopped by, but as late as 1830 Captain Morrell [2] on the Antarctic had an unpleasant experience: the natives, friendly on first contact and immediately following, became treacherous, aggressive and attacked. Soon thereafter things must have changed for already on 15 September 1852 the Rev. Doane and Sturges visited Ponape to found the first Protestant mission, in early February 1855 they returned to begin their missionary work and towards the end of the year, on 24 December, they both left for Kosrae for a mission meeting, returning to Ponape on 11 January 1856 [3]. In October of 1857 the king of Mac Askill, one of the islands surrounding Ponape to the north of Nukuoro, said to the Rev. Doane accompanied by two other visitors "he wanted a missionary to come and live on his island" [4].

The above data supply important indications of the population's changing attitude as their religions were abandoned, and this has a direct bearing on the sculpting of their tino [5].

Kubary, a special envoy sent by the Godeffroy Museum in Hamburg to collect specimens, made a first short visit in 1873 and stopped again in 1877 for a longer stay to study the Caroline Islands, mainly Nukuoro. By this time their religious practices were very considerably modified and since 1874 a trader lived there.

He reports, but without specifying on which trip, that he had someone buy two images on his behalf, one of these was the goddess Ko Kawe [6] , venerated as a large idol in the Amalau [7]. She was the spouse of the god Te ariki and patron goddess and protectress of the Sekawe, one of the five clans. The author believes that all the deities brought back by Kubary to Hamburg were probably collected on his second visit in 1877, but that in any case they were surely made [8] for the purpose of barter and trade as are almost all the surviving examples.

The coral island of Nukuoro had been ruled by two chiefs, one religious and one secular, for the latter the function being handed down from parent to child, or a family member, regardless of sex.

This image is the representation of a god or of a mythical ancestor that was worshipped. It was either kept with the main cult figure in the Amalau, the community's religious cult house, or possibly in one of the nine smaller god houses.

The main cult figure would have been adorned with flowers, paraded on certain festivals and offered human sacrifices in addition to other offerings; some of the smaller images were probably similarly venerated.

Eilers [9] tells us that the main ritual in the cult of the gods was the draping of the tino in new clothing, a sort of matting, during harvest (takatona period) at the same time that special cult ceremonies took place.

The four iron nails embedded on either side of the throat and under each buttock were surely added to this image either to enrich her or more likely to attach new clothing, obviously at a time when she was still worshipped with the ritual that fitted true belief. The iron nails might have been one of the earliest and most treasured items bartered or received from a visiting ship. The Rev. Doane relates "It is manifestly the iron age with this people, as iron hoop was eagerly taken in exchange for their small wares" [10]. We are told that when Cook anchored on his first trip in Wallis' Royal Bay [11] in April 1769, the natives were so avid for the metal that Cook had to pass an order that "No short (sort of) Iron or anything that is made of Iron, ... are to be given in exchange for anything but provisions ... ".

A feature of these carvings is the triangle ending in a prominent "mons veneris", the indication of a tattoo (te mata) which was obligatory for women. Such an adornment was reserved for a small elite and associated with long religious ceremonies.

This sculpture and the goddess Ko Kawe are the oldest and finest [12] of the few images that are known.

This image was collected by Thomas and Annie Brassey on their yacht Sunbeam during one of its voyages 1876-1883. Since they never stopped at Nukuoro, it was probably collected at Hawaii [13] where they called. It was surely already some time in Hawaii and probably collected before 1874, since apparently the Rev. Doane did not land on that visit. Back in England it was first exhibited in Claremont [14], Hastings, in 1885, described as Idol, called by the savages Se-Tu. Miknor, Caroline Islands. Then it was shown in a sort of museum at their house in Park Lane.

Spiritual tranquillity and presence emanate from this Nukuoro sculpture, and notwithstanding the earthiness of its lower limbs it has an amazing unity of line and form. One's gaze is drawn upwards to the head, seat of its mana.

The profile is calm and tense exuding strength, and the vision of its back reveals a creation of such conceptual purity that each time the author looks at it, he is overwhelmed. He knows of no abstract organic sculpture of such sublimity in any culture.

Exhibited and Published:
Els Moai de l'illa de Pasqua, cat. no. 50, pp. 165-170,
204 col. pl., p. 247.

Wright, B.: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Natural History, Ethnographical Specimens and Curiosities Collected by Lady Brassey during the Voyages of the "Sunbeam", 1876-1883 (London, 1885), no. 501, p. 60.
Hooper, J., Burland, C.A.: The Art of Primitive Peoples
(London, 1953), p. 134, pl. 48 a+b.

Ethnography Glossary

1 See cat. no. 270, footnote 1. The Easter Island female figure (Moai paapaa) which he exchanged with M.-A. Ciolkowska is now in the Carlo Monzino Collection, Lugano (Orefici, G.: La Terra dei Moai. Dalla Polinesia all'Isola di Pasqua [Venice, 1995], no. 130, p. 244 ill.).

2 Eilers, A.: Ergebnisse der Südsee-Expedition 1908-1910 II B, vol. 8. Inseln um Ponape (Hamburg, 1934), p. 163.

3 The details for these visits are to be found in a paper by Fr. Francis X. Hezel SJ (Foreign Ships in Micronesia [Pruk, Caroline Islands, 1979], pp. 54, 59, 61) which was shown to the author on 16 October 1993 by Bernard de Grunne who had found a copy in the Musée de l'Homme in Paris.

4 Eilers, A.: op. cit., p. 414.

5 For a commentary on this refer to the 'Aumakua, cat. no. 278.

6 J. Kubary (Beitrag zur Kenntnis der Nukuoro- oder Monteverde-Inseln, Mitt. d. Geograph. Gesell. in Hamburg XVI [1900], p. 96 n. 33) states in a footnote "this idol together with another one was bought on my behalf (probably as a result of his 1873 visit, the author believes) and loaded on board a ship, but I lost it through the dishonesty of the captain". This is the monumental goddess Kawe, 2.2 m in height possibly the one mentioned by Rev. Doane as "a very large one and being in their temple", presented (see footnote 7) to the Auckland Museum in 1878 by a local trader Mr. G. Cozens, as having but shortly before been worshipped and offered human sacrifices.

When the author was in New Zealand in the early 1970s and tried to find out about this image, he was informed that until recently it had been stored in a derelict toilet of the museum where leaking water had rotted its feet; its provenance was not exactly known. Apparently it was left in a warehouse at the Auckland docks until it entered the Museum. Whether Mr. Cozens was the local trader inhabiting Nukuoro or how it was obtained from the "dishonest captain" is not known.

7 Davidson, Janet, M.: A wooden image from Nukuoro in the Auckland Museum, Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 77, no. 1, March 1968, pp. 77-79, and almost certainly the one mentioned by Rev. Doane, The Geographical Magazine, August 1, 1874, p. 205: "... a very large one being in their temple".

8 It is noteworthy that the four large tino that were formerly in the Godeffroy Museum (Godeffroy nos. 2606, 2607, 3457, 3458: Eilers, A.: op. cit., pp. 278-279, ill. 201-204) - the largest presently in Berlin and the other three still in Hamburg - all bear tattoo marks engraved on their shoulders and upper arms. Though many Polynesians were wont to tattoo themselves, the author knows of only one instance of such tattooing being represented by "engravings" on their images. These embellishments on the Godeffroy examples surely cannot be in keeping with prescribed ritual or true religious belief, scratched in as they appear to be. The exception is that all extant Nukuoros do have a prominent "mons veneris" with the indication of the tattoo (te mata) obligatory for some women; however in the case of Ko Kawe and this image it appears as part of the sculpture, more plastic than graphic. Of course, there are other exceptions, some of the sculptures from the Cook Islands embellished with patterns in black, decorated with the same painting used in tattooing and dyeing barkcloth (Idiens, D.: Cook Islands Art [Bucks, 1990], p. 16), and the fisherman's gods from Rarotonga, such as the ones in the British Museum (inv. 9866) and in the Peabody Museum Cambridge, Mass. (inv. 53,517) with various painted motifs (Buck, P.H. [Te Rangi Hiroa]: Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands, Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 179, 1944, pp. 313-314, fig. 192, 193. Buck states "Some of the motifs are the same as those used in tattooing, but they are not always placed in the same position as similar designs on the human body."). These are however painted and not "engraved" or sculpted.

9 Eilers' article is based on Kubary, op. cit.

10 Doane, Rev.: loc. cit.

11 Matavai Bay (Tahiti): Duff, R.: No sort of iron: Culture of Cook's Polynesians (Christchurch, 1969), p. 8.

12 It is to be observed that the hands are finished in a way
that strongly resembles those of the cult goddess Kawe. The
author supposes that the cult image would be carved by the best sculptor, the same artist who may have executed the smaller figure, achieving thanks to its manageable size a perfection that his tools and practice may not have permitted
for the very large figure.

It may be worthy of note that there is in Hamburg (Museum für Völkerkunde E 1824: Dodd, E.: Polynesian Art [New York, 1967], p. 262 ill. top left) a figure of considerable size (1.63 m), though less well executed but with hands that recall the others, and another almost identical in height (1.68 m) and very similar in Berlin (Museum für Völkerkunde 46934). These carvings have somehow lost their ethos and they appear devoid of content though their outer and exterior forms are similar. They are of unpolished style and may be made with the help of iron tools (notice the divisions of the toes) and their surfaces lack the careful finish and polish that religious belief commands. As soon as European contact was made that went beyond a mooring to avoid a storm or a short stop for fresh water and food, the natives immediately produced the artefacts that the visitors wished to take home as souvenirs. By Cook's second visit to any island, newly-made artefacts were already available. It may even be that certain images with no wear or patina brought back on a first visit by Cook from Hawaii, for instance, may already have been made during his stay for exchange with his crew.

Dr. Clara Wilpert kindly supplied the following information: in 1886 the contents of the Godeffroy Museum were sold off, the company owning it having suffered financial setbacks. Hamburg acquired four images of which the largest is presently in Berlin (Museum für Völkerkunde 46934, acquired in 1962 from Hamburg, H: 168 cm). The second largest is still in Hamburg (E 1824) and measures 163 cm in height. The other two are large, being around 150 cm. Many of the items from the Godeffroy Museum went to Leipzig and there are three small Nukuoro in Cologne.

13 Hawaii was the base for the rare missionary voyages of the American Board of Commissioners to the Caroline Islands. The American Mission in Micronesia had a station at Ponape, one of the main call groups of the Caroline archipelago. Mr. Doane, a missionary, was on the Star, the boat of the mission that visited Nukuoro in 1874; though nobody landed, the natives came out to barter. It is of course possible that the image was brought back then, though the author thinks it more likely it was acquired in the 1850s by the Rev. Doane or Sturges during their missionary work on Ponape.

14 Sir Thomas Brassey was MP for Hastings, and his former house, Claremont, was converted into the Hastings Institute and School of Fine Arts, where the figure was first exhibited, appearing under cat. no. 501. In 1886, Lord Brassey installed a museum in his house at 24 Park Lane. The idol was apparently placed in the entrance to the house, its contents listed in a manuscript catalogue - under the entry E 257 appears: Idol, Nuknor, Caroline Islands. In 1919, after the death of the second Lord Brassey, the collection was given to the Hastings Museum.

15 The exterior line from the base of the nape down along either side to the tip of the hands, the cut-out between the arms and the body - with their relation to each other and the space between them - outlines the figure as the line flows down to the base, as does the opening formed by the legs; the whole is in harmony with the different parts. The relationship with the neck and head that surmount the body and the curve of the lower back leading out to the flat buttocks and from there to the back of the knees, frames the body's back yet leaving it free in space and harmonizes it with the short lower legs.