VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Fly whisk-handle
Oz 418
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

Whereas Adrienne Kaeppler listed six ti'i and to'o figures which appeared in the collections in Oxford and London as a result of Cook's voyages, the two Goettingen fly whisk handles rank among the very rare examples of images from Cook's own time. Apart from these two pieces, objects of comparable quality can be found only in the collections in Vienna, Dublin, and Herrnhut (here: missing). The handle is carved from a piece of dark-brown, finely polished iron-wood. Its lower part is shaped like a human figure while the upper part consists of a smooth round shaft. The shaft, tapering slightly in the middle section, ends in a spoon-like form at the upper end with a small hole where the fiber bundles of the whisk were originally fastened. The seated image at the lower end is characteristic for the Society Islands in its iconography and has the following striking features: short legs with knees bent at right angles; a distinctly bulging belly on which the arms, bent at right angles, and the hands (each with three fingers) rest; in relation to the body, the head is large with the arched lower rim of the eyes and the sagittal forehead bulge above them particularly emphasized in the carving. Sculptures of this type, made of wood or stone, are found within the sacred grounds, marae, as wooden prow figures of large boats, va'a and pahi, and as the handle part of fly whisks. Such anthropomorphic figures basically embodied intermediaries between supernatural powers and the people, deified ancestors, ti'i, or protector gods. In contrast to the ti'i, the generally larger, to'o, figures with plaited and feathered lashings represented higher deities.

History of the Object
This object, among others, was collected during James Cook’s three voyages through the Pacific Ocean (1768-71, 1772-75, and 1776-79/80). The items presented in the Goettingen Collection are of fascinating preservation and – in consideration of their age – irreplaceable items of the past.

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Type
Decorative Art 
Materials
Wood (toa or 'aito; Casuarina equisetifo-lia) 
Measurements
33,7 x 9,8 cm 
Creator name
Unknown 
Creator date
Unknown 
Where it was made
France; French Polynesia; Tahiti 
Geography
France; French Polynesia 
Time period
AD 18th century ~ AD 18th century 
Creation date
18th Century 
Function
Handle of a fly whisk 
Acquisition
Part of the Cook/Forster Collection 
Copyright
 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
Ethnographic Collection, Institute for Cultural and Social Anthropology, Georg-August University Goettingen, Germany 
Museum
Ethnographic Collection of the University of Göttingen 
Credit line
 

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