Portraits, The human form in Oceania Culture

Oceania encompasses more than thirty thousand islands in the Pacific Ocean, spanning from Hawaii in the north to New Zealand in the south. To most geographers the lands that make up Oceania include Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, New Zealand, and often Australia and the Malay Archipelago. These islands are home to a wide range of cultures. Often found in Oceanian cultures, the human form is quite popular among Oceanian art whether it is represented as a sculpture, mask, or head piece. They are still presenting a portrait of some kind, thus representing the human form. The human form often represents as a symbol of a past behind a certain individual or a culture. The human form also is often represented as a ceremonial piece dedicated to the deceased or ancesotrs. This gallery depicts that human form from a portrait found in Oceanian culture.

The human from is depicted in this collection with pieces such as masks and sculptures. The sculptures/figures in this exhibition:

·         Sculpture of a deity known as A’a. The British Museum. The Trustees of the British Museum. Made in Rurutu, Austral Islands, Polynesia, 1505 - 1645. Wood (sandalwood).

·         Sculpture of a deity known as A’a. The British Museum. The Trustees of the British Museum. Made in Rurutu, Austral Islands, Polynesia, 1505 - 1645. Wood (sandalwood).

·         Unknown. Post Figure (Poutokomanawa). Minneapolis Institute of Art, New Zealand (Aotearoa). Wood. paua shell.


The masks in this exhibition:

·         Micronesians. Wooden Mask. The British Museum. The Trustees of the British Museum. Made in Caroline Islands, 1800-1899. Breadfruit tree wood; coir; lime; coal. Unknown.

·         Malanggan Mask. Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Madrid, Melanesia. Wood, Vegetal fibre, fabric, feather.


"Rurutu Figure Known as A’a." Khan Academy. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <https: / /www.khanacademy.org /humanities /art-oceania /polynesia /a /rurutu-figure-known-as-aa>.

"Collection Object Details about Mask." British Museum. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <http: / /www.britishmuseum.org /research /collection_online /collection_object_details.aspx?objectid="495862">.

"Malangan." Khan Academy. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <https: / /www.khanacademy.org /humanities /art-oceania /melanesia /a /malangan>.

"Ancestor Figure (Korwar) | 2001.674 | Work of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <http: / /www.metmuseum.org /toah /works-of-art /2001.674>.

"Maori Post Figure: Poutokomanawa." World Myths and Legends in Art (Minneapolis Institute of Arts). Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <http: / /archive.artsmia.org /world-myths /viewallart /maori_background.html>.

"Oceanian Society." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 1968, "Oceania: Island Culture." Fashion, Costume,;Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations,;Footwear through the Ages. 2004, "Oceania." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed.. 2016, "Oceania." World Encyclopedia. 2005, and "Oceania." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. "Oceanian Society." Encyclopedia.com. HighBeam Research, 1968. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <http: / /www.encyclopedia.com /topic /oceania.aspx#2>.

A'a This sculpture is included in the exhibition because it represents the human form and is in honor of a deity that was important to oceanic culture. • This figure, known as A'a, was made on the island of Rurutu, one of the Austral Islands, in Polynesia. Its features are formed of thirty small figures which spring forth from its body and suggest fertility and the power to create life. A’a was carved with a hollow head and torso covered by a panel at the back and was probably designed to hold the skull and bones of an important ancestor. When A'a was surrendered to European missionaries in 1821, they recorded that the figure was named A'a after the ancestor who first settled on Rurutu. (Rurutu Figure Known as A’a)
Ceremonial Micronesian Masks This Micronesian mask is important to this exhibition because often masks were used to honor the deceased ancestors as well as bring luck in few sub cultures. The mask shares similar qualities of the human form specifically, the face. • Masks are rare in Micronesia - traditionally they are only found in the Mortlock group of islands. This typical example is made of breadfruit wood painted white using lime and black using soot. The mask has narrow eye-slits, and a plaited coconut fibre cord for securing it to the wearer's head.Such masks represented an ancestor. They were used as ornaments in the ceremonial house and sometimes in boat houses. The ceremonial house was the location of performances by members of a secret society, in which the god of wind was appeased to protect the breadfruit crops from hurricanes and storms. The ceremony took place in March or April, and included dancing and feasting.Satawan is an atoll of four main populated islands and 45 islets, covering a very small land area. The main island is called Satawan, with a population of around 1000 people. It is part of the Mortlock Islands (population 5,163 according to the 1994 census), which belong to the state of Chuuk (Truk). Chuuk is one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia created in 1986, an internally self-governing republic. The principal Japanese naval base was located in the Chuuk area during the Second World War; the lagoon still contains many wrecked ships and planes. (Collection Object Details about Mask)
Malanggan Mask The human form is very present in this mask, yet it is a little exaggerated, but every piece has meaning. • Mask used in the malanggan ceremonies for the deceased. Known as tatanua, they were the center of the ceremony, where they combined the cult of the dead with fertility and initiation rites. The deceased, represented in the mask, participated in the ceremony through it and gave way to the new members so that the society could regenerate. The malanggan ceremonies were also a way of establishing reciprocity bonds between relatives and even in a political or economic level, increasing the organizer’s prestige. Once the ceremony finished, the masks were usually burnt. (Malangan)
Korwars Ancestor figures were made throughout New Guinea as home to villagers who have died. When crises threatened, such as disease or war, Papuans, the inhabitants of New Guinea, would consult their ancestors and bring offerings. Etna expedition What makes this korwar so unusual is its age. It was acquired in New Guinea in 1858 by the very first Dutch scientific expedition to the island. The Etna expedition was named after the Etna, the ship on which the researchers explored the New Guinea coast. Most of the items brought back by expedition members have long since vanished. The records of the voyage were less than thorough. However, the report of the Etna expedition contains a drawing of this figure. And the report was published in 1862 with the illustration as a litho. Vanished • It was long thought that this korwar, like other objects collected by the Etna expedition, was lost. Apparently, it had last been shown at the Paris Exposition in 1931. The Dutch pavilion had been destroyed in a fire and so the korwar was believed to have vanished too. Then in 2002, the Tropenmuseum’s Oceania curator found this figure in the museum depot and spotted its similarity to the figure in the report. It turned out to be part of the so-called Artis collection. Many of the items brought back by the Etna expedition had been acquired by Amsterdam’s Artis zoo in the 19th century. These were given to the newly founded Colonial Museum, predecessor of today’s Tropenmuseum, in 1911. It had probably languished in the depot since 1926, when the present building opened. Now it is on display in the Tropenmuseum’s New Guinea presentation as one of the oldest korwars in the Netherlands. (Ancestor Figure (Korwar))
Poutokomanawa This post figure, called poutokomanawa, welcomed guests to a Maori communal house. It portrays an ancestor whose spiritual power infused the building. The unique tattoo pattern carved on his face identified him. • Adorning the body with tattoos is an important art throughout Polynesia and Micronesia. Although its cultural significance and aesthetic qualities vary greatly, many groups value tattooing as a sign of personal and social identity. The figure's proportions represent Maori beliefs about the different types of energy residing in the human body: the head is scaled larger than life as it is considered the center of personal power, and the hands rest on the stomach to emphasize the life force that links spirits to humans (Maori Post Figure: Poutokomanawa)
Credits: All media
This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.