Oceania

Polynesia

Polynesia (which means "many islands") is one of the three major categories created by Westerners to refer to the islands of the South Pacific.

c. 1200 B.C.E. - present

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Paikea at the American Museum of Natural History
Paikea at the American Museum of Natural History

After a century in storage, this “Whale Rider” got a visit from his descendants—and received a token of their love.

Voyage to the moai of Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Voyage to the moai of Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

These giant statues embody the ancients who first voyaged to Rapa Nui. Many were toppled; all lost their coral eyes.

Presentation of Fijian Mats and Tapa Cloths to Queen Elizabeth II
Presentation of Fijian Mats and Tapa Cloths to Queen Elizabeth II

This photograph commemorates a historic royal visit and captures the practice of Fijian gift exchange.

Rurutu figure known as A’a
Rurutu figure known as A’a

This virtuosic carving represents a creator god. It is one of the finest pieces of Polynesian sculpture in the West.

Polynesia, an introduction
Polynesia, an introduction

Islanders grew fruit trees and used the wood to carve figures. This one depicts Ku, the “land snatcher.”

Maori meeting house
Maori meeting house

The god of war rules the world outside these sacred spaces, but inside, peace and calm prevail.

Feather cape
Feather cape

Hawaiian nobility donned these “red garments” in ceremonies and battle and later gave them to Europeans as gifts.

Easter Island Moai
Easter Island Moai

This “lost or stolen friend” left Easter Island in 1869. Carved of dense volcanic rock, it towers over the viewer.

Necklace (Lei Niho Palaoa), Hawai’i
Necklace (Lei Niho Palaoa), Hawai’i

This spectacular necklace pairs human hair with a sperm-whale tooth. Chiefs wore it to assert their divine right.

Fly Whisk (Tahiri), Austral Islands
Fly Whisk (Tahiri), Austral Islands

Ignore the Western name—spinning this object opened a channel of communication between ancestral and human realms.

Michel Tuffery, <em>Pisupo Lua Afe</em>
Michel Tuffery, Pisupo Lua Afe

Tuffery’s iconic “tinned bull” addresses contemporary concerns about ecological health and food sovereignty.

Gottfried Lindauer, <em>Tamati Waka Nene</em>
Gottfried Lindauer, Tamati Waka Nene

This revered chief led the Māori at a time of rapid change in New Zealand. Both attire and tattoo mark his status.

Selected Contributors | Polynesia