Austral Island Paddle Pair
A rare pair of two distinctly different styles of this Ra'ivavae Island ceremonial paddle form. Both display exquisite miniature tightly carved geometric decor of the finest work on these items of ritual paraphernalia. Pommel displays traditional tiki figures late 1700s - early 1800s.
The paddles display deep, rich dark aged patina overall.
Some old repairs & loss evident.
Acquired from a private Canadian collection.
Palmer Family Collection. Length 99cm (39 inches).
‘The carved paddles which are so much admired are carved principally with sharks teeth, shells and stones, they still preferring these rude instruments to any of European manufacture.’ Samuel Stutchbury, visitor to Ravavai in 1825.
The pommel has eight female figures performing the Upa Upa dance, they wear large rosettes in their hair.
Little is known as to the function of these paddles although examples were collected between the period of 1800 & 1835 during which time the population of the Austral islands dwindled to a handful of people. Too delicate for actual use they may have been dance objects. It has been suggested they were made for a fledgling industry trading them to western travellers. However this is problematic, as the amount of paddles in museums today would have taken a large amount of skilled carvers working constantly on these objects to produce in such numbers.
Of these, the best known are the highly decorated and intricately carved Austral Island “paddles,” Despite their shape, these elaborate carvings are not functional paddles for watercraft. Their sizes are so variable and their shafts so weak that they are unsuitable for such use. Most probably they were emblems of status for ceremonial rather than functional use. An exhaustive survey of the historical sources confirms that there are no eyewitness accounts of their use. No local name is recorded for them before 1890, after which they are sometimes called hoe, after the Tahitian word for paddle.
Rhys Richards The Austral Islands: History, Art, and Art History.
Phelps Steven, 1976, Art and Artefacts of the Pacific, Africa and the Americas, The James Hooper Collection, Hutchinson of London, p.149, fig.633 (illus).