See also : Tribal Oceania
Nearly 900 colossal anthropomorphic stone statues delineated and oversaw the playgrounds of the festive ceremonies on Easter Island. Participants used a variety of wood accessories ranging in style from the very fine expression of the ancestral figures to the sublime simplification of the flat paddles of dance including ao and rapa.
The large ao were reserved for dignitaries. Shorter and thinner, rapa were used in pairs by virtuoso dancers who twirled them, one in each hand. They have no equivalent in other tribal cultures. The largest rapa are 1.20 m long.
It was not until 1868 that a marine surgeon on stopover made the first field observations. The wooden object coated in black consisting of two flat blades linked like a dumbbell was known since Cook. Its use in ritual dances and its name in the indigenous language, rapa, are finally known. The abundance of the artifact and of its painted, sculpted or tattooed representations assesses its ritual importance. The central handle has a patina of use.
It is already too late. However in 1886 the rite is mimed for a visitor. The ethnographic description becomes more precise. Each dancer uses a pair, one rapa in each hand, which he twirls at very high speed. The rapa dance chases the evil spirits, but the details of the rite are already lost. Who are the rapa ? How are they paired ? What is their mystical relationship with moai, ua and ao ?
The rapa form a homogeneous crowd, matching a single anthropomorphic model but with varying heights. It is a thin cylinder used as a handle with a flat blade at each end. The upper part has the outline of a head with protuberances for the ear ornaments.
The face is drawn by an incised and whitened double arch forming a superb continuity of the line from nose to ear through eyebrow. The other end, not incised, is the pear shaped abdomen, prolonged by the phallus for the male rapa and by a tiny sex protuberance for the female. Hair, eyes, mouth and limbs are absent.
This object is unique in the world by its use. The anthropomorphic simplification is of great aesthetic efficiency, all the more remarkable as this people was totally isolated from the rest of the world. The balance of the masses must be excellent to ensure the perfection of the dance.
2017 SOLD for € 3.9M by Sotheby's
Record mondial pour une œuvre île de Pâques. Paire de rapa, 3.876.700 € chez @SothebysFr Comme nous l'écrivions Paris est définitivement capitale des Arts premiers. Démonstration en quelques chefs-d'œuvre ce mardi soir 12 décembre. https://t.co/gCY7iV9hbS pic.twitter.com/7wbQosAsXu— lecurieuxdesarts (@PresseKraemer) December 12, 2017
2014 SOLD for € 1.9M by Sotheby's
2021 SOLD for € 1.82M by Christie's
2019 SOLD for € 1.8M by Sotheby's
#AuctionUpdate Cette exceptionnelle pagaie de danse cérémonielle Rapa, a une histoire unique. Passée par les collections Schindler et Bernard de Grunne, elle a été exposée dans de grandes institutions internationales. Elle rejoint une nouvelle collection pour 1.8 M€ #Oceania pic.twitter.com/m2y6amiiHQ— Sotheby's France (@SothebysFr) December 4, 2019
The word Moai means image. It is also used for small wooden figures. Kavakava refers to a male Moai with a protruding rib cage whose body is very elongated and emaciated, like a hybrid between a being and his skeleton. Kavakava means 'ribs'. The large mesmerizing eyes are made of black obsidian irises inserted in white bone.
The feet are not made for standing. Compared with Mbole figures from Congo which have a similar characteristic, it may be supposed that the iconography of the kavakava symbolizes the moment when the deceased becomes a ghost. Eyewitnesses observed that the dancers hung them to their neck or carried them in their hands as a protection against evil.
Although these pieces respond to a canon, small variations demonstrate that they are not strictly anthropomorphic. A kavakava kept in the museum of La Rochelle has two heads. Other figures may be mixed with bird or eel.
2022 SOLD for € 2.8M by Christie's
It is gently displayed in an upright position, in full contrast with its highly aggressive male counterpart.
A 52 cm high moai pa'a pa'a was sold for € 2.8M from a lower estimate of € 1.5M by Christie's on June 29, 2022, lot 7. The nude figure has all the female attributes. It bears on its head the glyph mark of a two headed bird. In addition, it has a goatee beard which may be an example of humorous caricature.
On September 30, 2002, Sotheby's sold a moai pa'a pa'a for € 530K. from a lower estimate of € 250K, lot 38. In the same sale, a kavakava was sold for € 310K.
A 41 cm papa was sold by Sotheby's for € 145K on March 24, 2010, lot 13, and for € 240K on December 4, 2020, lot 64. One of the long fingered hands hides the pubis.
2021 SOLD for € 1.7M by Christie's
With its sharp naturalism of the cadaver and its natural proportions, it could be an early example. The kavakava realized after the contact with the explorers have a large head gradually increasing with time.
This specimen is carved with enigmatic symbols including a pair of fish on the head, a little bump on each buttock and a large sacrolumbar triangle.
2019 SOLD for € 850K by Christie's
A moai kavakava brought home by a Lieutenant of the Topaze was sold for € 850K by Christie's on April 10, 2019, lot 63. Please watch the video prepared by the auction house. This figure 44 cm high was beautifully carved in a very hard wood that no longer exists today because of deforestation.
2008 SOLD for $ 610K by Sotheby's
2021 SOLD for € 1.82M by Christie's
A tangata moko lizard-man 37 cm long was sold for € 1.82M from a lower estimate of € 200K by Christie's on June 23, 2021, lot 48. It had been collected in 1868 by the surgeon of the HMS Topaze.
Its lizard features dominate with a flexible arched body, a triangular head, a reptile snout and mouth and a long tapered tail. The anthropomorphism is limited to the ribs and backbone symbolizing the corpse of an ancestor. A glyph representing a human vulva is carved in low relief on the lower jawbone. The skull is bulbous. The figure still bears traces of black dye.
2021 SOLD for € 810K by Christie's
Such a piece designed for simulating the smile of a giant god was obviously used in dancing ceremonies.
A reimiro 63 cm wide in hard wood was sold for € 810K from a lower estimate of € 300K by Christie's on June 23, 2021, lot 4.