See also : Tribal Oceania
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. The face is drawn by an incised and whitened double arch forming a superb continuity of the line from nose to ear through eyebrow. Hair, eyes, mouth and limbs are absent. The other end, not incised, is the abdomen, prolonged by the phallus for the male rapa and by a tiny sex protuberance for the female.
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
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.
The rapa 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 facial features drawn identically on both sides consist only of the geometrically perfect double arch of nose and eyebrows. The pear shaped lower part is the abdomen. It is extended by a phallus. Limbs are absent.
On December 12, 2017, Sotheby's sold for € 3.9M a set of two rapa 78 and 71 cm overall from a lower estimate of € 1M, lot 7. They probably already made a pair before their collection. Only one of them has the phallus.
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.
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
2002 SOLD for € 530K by Sotheby's
On September 30, 2002, Sotheby's sold a moai pa'a pa'a for € 530K. In the same sale, a kavakava was sold for € 310K. The price difference certainly related to the scarcity of the female moai.