A Tongan carver, a tufunga fonolei (jewellery maker), created this lovely goddess figure out of sea-mammal ivory – probably a whale’s tooth – more than 200 years ago. At the time of Captain James Cook’s visits to the Tongan archipelago, the islanders paid reverence to a range of gods and goddesses through small figures such as this.
This figure may represent Hikuleo, goddess of Pulotu, ancestral homeland and the world of the dead. After Christian missionaries eventually convinced Tongan chiefs to renounce their gods in the early 1800s, these figures were often destroyed or desecrated. In Tongatapu, the archipelago’s main island, Christian denominations and new forms of worship developed, sometimes combining Christian practice with older Tongan practices.
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