Kava bowl

By | October 15, 2014
Atua 3

Ra’ivavae, Austral Islands; Kava bowl, late 18th to early 19th century; wood (Calophyllum sp.); 9 1/4 x 12 3/8 x 24 13/16 inches; Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand.

For centuries, kava has been used as a ceremonial drink in Polynesia. But the popular taste for kava declined by the mid-19th century as Christianity replaced traditional religion and its widespread use of the drink.

Kava bowl, from the collection of New Zealand’s Canterbury Museum, is an important work in Atua: Sacred Gods from Polynesia because it is one of very few kava implements from central and eastern Polynesia that date to before the Christian period. According to the exhibition catalogue:

A shark tooth burin was probably used to produce much of the surface decoration, which is in the distinctive style that is better known from the hundreds of paddles found in museums throughout the world.

Of particular interest are the figures on the finial of eight dancing women or girls wearing headdresses with two lobes, one (on) each side of the head. One head on the inside group has been replaced with an indistinct plaster head.

Women, particularly dancing women, were of major significance in the art traditions of Ra’ivavae.