Moai Tangata (Male Figure)

Moai Tangata (Male Figure)

A male figure with a protruding stomach offers a version of Rapa Nui physiognomy. As with the skeletal examples, there isn't a precise record of the significance of these remarkable images. This one may have been intended to portray a specific individual, with a small beard and ornaments in his elongated ear lobes. However, what appears to be hair on the skull seems related to the "fishmen" petroglyphs seen at rock-art sites on the island. With their wide staring eyes and perplexing characteristics, the art of Rapa Nui continues to give observers more to wonder about than to confirm proven facts.

Easter Island, said to be one of the most difficult islands in the world to reach, remained isolated until the masters of ocean travel, the Polynesians, arrived around the fifth century. Over the centuries, they erected large stone statues to embody their land rights but during the seventeenth century, conflicts led to a time known as "the overturning of the statues." Ecological disaster was also eminent, followed by epidemics brought by Europeans, who settled on the island in 1722. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, these images of men with painfully emaciated bodies were carved, perhaps to suggest ancestor figures. Accounts of visitors to Easter Island are rare, but one from 1882 reports seeing such figures worn by men of high rank.

Wood, bird bone, and inlaid obsidian
10 1/2 x 2 1/4 x 2 in. (26.67 x 5.72 x 5.08 cm)
Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, The Untold Story, November 14, 2003 - November 14, 2004

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