Polynesian Ivories

January 1, 2004-July 31, 2004
Location: Faith-Dorian and Martin Wright Gallery of Oceanic Art
Curator: Dorit Shafir
A Tonga goddess figure, a Marquesas Islands tiki amulet, Hawaiian wrist ornaments, and Maori ceremonial clubs from New Zealand – these rare and valuable ivory objects, dating from the late 18th – early 19th centuries, had recently been donated to the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. In the Polynesian Islands, ivory objects were signs of prestige and status. Whale teeth were associated with divine powers from the sea, and were used to secure strategic alliances. Nevertheless, the Islanders did not hunt whales, but rather depended for supplies of ivory on the chance stranding of a whale on the shore. Only in the late 18th century did European whalers and traders begin to import ivory to the Islands.