Kavakava statuette

Kavakava statuette
Easter Island
15th cent.
Wood (toromiro); H. 43 cm
Inv. ET.48.63

Much has been written about moai kavakava ('figures with ribs showing'). In the 1930s, a French doctor interpreted these statuettes as representing illnesses caused by drinking seawater. More recently, others have believed they could recognize in them physical deformations of starvation victims. But in Polynesia, the skeleton has fundamental symbolic functions. In Tahiti, for example, the god Tangaroa, creator of the universe and its inhabitants, built the world's first house using his spinal column for the main beam and his ribs for the framework of the roof. In the late 19th century, some people still wore moai kavakava around their neck during harvest festivals. According to carbon-14 analysis, the Brussels example - one of the most remarkable - dates to the 15th century.

Discover this masterpiece on the online museum catalogue Carmentis, in the book Masterpieces of the Cinquantenaire Museum and soon in the exhibition Oceania - Travels through the immensity at the Museum (26.10.2017 - 29.04.2018).