The origin of the model is lost in the mists of time. The Uli is essentially a warrior chief with piercing eyes, spectacular beard and protruding sex. His hairstyle as a peak within a frame is a sign of political power. The realization of the Uli is a long process: it is made from the tree planted during the funeral ceremony over the grave of the leader.
The Uli have breasts of women that do not bring a hermaphrodite ambiguity but reinforce the symbol of fertility, meaning the transfer of power by the outstanding deceased chief for the benefit of the living villagers. The male dancers also wear female breasts in wood.
Les Uli are carefully stored away from common people until they are brought out for a new funeral ceremony. This rare opportunity of use probably explains the excellent condition of some pieces. They were discovered too late, in the early twentieth century, to be emasculated by Christian missionaries.
An exceptional Uli is estimated $ 4M by Sotheby's in New York on May 7, lot 8. At 1.52 m high, it is one of the tallest known specimens. Its sculpture is remarkably artistic. An inspection by experts showed that it had been carved with stone blades or animal teeth, before the introduction of the metal in the island. A radiocarbon analysis dated the wood between 1650 and 1800 in our calendar.
Two specimens only have similar features concerning art and age. One is in the Louvre and the other in the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin.
SOLD for $ 4.7M including premium