This cylindrical piece 49 cm high is an open worked stick 5cm in diameter carved in hard wood. The main figure is accompanied by small secondary figures that had perhaps a genealogical significance. The head is of course very long but it is very beautiful, with a non-scarred forehead that emphasizes the dignity.
The natives did not know the metal. This painstaking carving done with shells, stones and teeth is a tour de force.
Cook's voyages had raised evangelical vocations. The missionaries wanted to discover populated islands in order to immediately destroy their paganism. The vast archipelago of the Cook islands, including Rarotonga, is explored in the 1820s. The most active missionary in Rarotonga, John Williams, will be eaten by cannibals in 1839 in the New Hebrides.
The statement of total eradication of paganism in Rarotonga is made in 1825. Very few ritual pieces, including the figure for sale by Sotheby's, are saved and kept as curiosities. Almost all are emasculated for religious reasons and shortened for an easy shipment to England.