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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Moai Kavakava (Male Figure with Ribs)

Photo: Paul Macapia

Moai Kavakava (Male Figure with Ribs)

Cadaverous wood figures from Rapa Nui communicate a visual distress signal that adds to the mystery of what happened on this unusual island. One mythic explanation cites a legendary hero carving the first of this type to commemorate discovery of two sleeping spirits with skeletal ribcages. Early observers recorded seeing small wooden figures being held up to the sky while others chanted and danced, particularly at feasts when the first fruits were offered. On the skull, an incised birdman may be a reminder of an annual quest to collect the first egg of a migrating bird.
Wood, shell, and stone
19 3/8 x 4 1/8 x 5 1/4 in. (49.21 x 10.48 x 13.34 cm)
Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Hero/Antihero, December 21, 2002 - August 17, 2003

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

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Volunteer Park, Selections From The Katherine White Collection, February 1987

Published ReferencesKahn, Miriam. "Art of Oceania, Mesoamerica, and the Andes." In Selected Works, pp. 55-58. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1991; p. 55, reproduced.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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