of Natural History in Washington (E2998) or the “temple sculpture” anthropomorphic bust that was cut in half on request by Reverend Baker who visited the island of Viwa in August 1863, recently sold in Paris (Christie’s, December 10th 2013, lot 19) – conjecture still surrounds the exact origin and function of wooden matakaus, based mainly on their condition and size as they range from 12 to 140 cm high. Small examples probably never left the smoky interior of the bure kalou, which their patina tends to confirm and is perhaps enhanced by ceremonial oil sinking into the bark cloth, masi, which these sculptures were laid on. These small “figures of elders” were clan “talismans”, “amulets” or “mascots” which were inherited and could also be used as provisional vehicles or habitats (waqa, “boat” in Fijian) for the supernatural spirit invoked by the priest during shaman trances to predict or secure the future. This example completes a small group of miniature matakaus whose existence Larsson speculated on by describing similarities between the Cambridge specimen (31cm) collected by Von Hügel in 1875 (fig. 1)(the only one whose Fijian origin is proven) and a small sculpture (18.4 cm) from Otago Museum in Dunedin that its former owner, Oldman, attributed to the Cook Islands (fig. 2). Soon after A. Wardwell added a unique statue from the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch (27.5 cm)(fig. 3) before the publication and sale of the Hooper collection revealed a fourth example (23 cm) which went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2008 (fig. 4). Another auction (Sotheby’s London, March 24th 1986, lot 58) unveiled a fifth piece (19 cm) followed by a sixth one (27 cm) years later (Bonhams London, June 17th 1991, lot 125)(fig. 5). Despite significant progress in the research and publication of Oceanic artefacts, no additions to the series have been made in the last quarter of a century whose consistency is in the exclusively feminine figures, their small size and stylistic features: sugarloaf head, bulging eyebrows over eyes with mother-of-pearl discs, pointed chin, small chest, arms with hands resting on iliac hollows, projecting hips and pubis, spindly legs – apart from those in the current example that also stand out for their animated limbs, less evident in the other miniature matakaus (1). Gilles BOUNOURE
(1) These details, among others, stop us seeing this series as the work of the same sculptor as commentators suggested of the Hooper piece (catalogue Christie’s London, June 19th 1979, notice du lot 135, Ch. Mack, A. Wardwell, etc.). These authors should be referred to for some specific Fijian features when they attribute these statues to Tonga artists who had very different models.
22 MAORI KAWERAU HAND CLUB WITH TIKI WAHAIKA, NEW ZEALAND Wood with brown patina
Traditional wahaika with the bulk in a hook-shape and a short, firm grip. A tiki head is sculpted at the bottom of the handle with a hole to fit a strap. A second full-length tiki stretches out higher, the body is significantly arched by the arms stretching backwards, the arms depicted in two hemmed movements. The face is strong with the mouth sticking out a short tongue in defiance, a traditional haka warrior gesture for Maori warriors. There are two holes between the arms and club then on the neck. The deep shiny brown patina shows age and long usage. This type of short weapon worn on the belt was designed for close combat and was popular among warriors because it was simple and easy to use so they could target vital areas on the face and body. The lateral curve and full-length tiki suggest it comes from the north of the island. Maori sculptors tended to use bone for this type of weapon so it’s rare to find one in wood.
23 MARQUESAS ISLANDS FAN (TAHI’I), POLYNESIA Hard wood with brown patina, pandanus leaves, fibers
It’s rare to find tahi’i from the Marquesas Islands that still have their pandan leaf casements. The painstakingly tight wickerwork is particularly sophisticated in this case with functional yet decorative