‘DIEU-BÂTON’, ATUARAKAU, RAROTONGA, ÎLES COOK

Lot 65
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Estimation :
200000 - 300000 EUR
Result with fees
Result : 232 380EUR
‘DIEU-BÂTON’, ATUARAKAU, RAROTONGA, ÎLES COOK

STICK GOD', ATUARAKAU, RAROTONGA, COOK ISLANDS

Presumed time period: 18th century

Ironwood (casaurina equisetifolia) H. 9.5 cm - L. 88.9 cm - W. 5.1 cm


Provenance :

- Collected by Mr. Thomas during his stay in Australia in the 1860s

- Passed on to his grand nephew

- Sotheby's, New York, 24 November 1992, lot 35

- Private collection


Bibliography :

- Steven Hooper, Pacific Encounters, The British Museum Press, 2006, pp. 224/225.

- Steven Phelps, Art and Artefacts, The James Hooper Collection, Hutchinson Ltd, 1976, p. 133/134.


The handle of this superb Rarotonga 'Staff-God' is carved with four groups of miniature figures, nine figures, and ends with a phallus. From left to right, the first figure, seen in profile, is very well carved with a large head, almond-shaped eyes, stretched ears and reduced limbs; it has its back to a second figure whose head is in line with the stick but whose body is presented from the front. The second group, like the third, consists of three figures, two in profile framing a figure in front with exaggerated ears. The last figure, isolated and just before the cut of the stick, is close to the first, but with less volume and refinement.

The patina of this very hard, fine-grained wood, deep and soft with shades ranging from light to dark brown, a sign of ancient use, was obtained by long sanding with shells and stone tools.

Although Captain Cook visited this archipelago on his second (1772/75) and third (1776/80) voyages, he missed the largest of these islands, Rarotonga. To collect documented information, we had to wait for the arrival of Reverend John Williams (1796-2839) of the L.M.S. (London Missionary Society) in July 1823.

These magnificent 'staff-gods' are extremely rare, less than twenty of them can be found in museums. They are even rarer today, as most of these idolatrous sculptures were burnt by the LMS missionaries to convert the natives of the Cook Islands. Some of the 'Stick Gods' sent to the LMS

for its museum in London, created in 1836, were able to escape the flames. But many were cut down for ease of transport or 'obscenity' regarding the phallic part. The Rarotonga people themselves may have kept a few sticks to 'decorate the rafters of the (missionary) chapels' [Williams, 1837, p.5]. [Williams, 1837, p.119]. This explains why some examples may have been exported at a later date. As a result of the mistreatment of these staff-gods, most of them lost the tapa bark that was wrapped around the middle part of the stick. The principle of tapa - present in all Polynesia - symbolizes the power and the soul of the gods or mana.

gods or mana. These highly symbolic objects are often linked to the creator god Tangaroa.

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