It seems that this island has escaped in the previous century the zeal of the Christian missionaries who destructed the idols. In 1904, some settlers were amazed by the discovery of Uli art in the center of the island. They collected many pieces and had the chance to witness the creation of a statuette, but the rite ceased to be performed soon after 1905.
All Uli are implemented on a single generic model, with however some significant variations. More than 200 have been preserved. These large anthropomorphic statues up to 1.40 m high accompany the funeral feasts of chiefs that last throughout a full year. The Uli are not portraits and are carefully handled so that they can be reused.
They are hermaphrodites for concentrating all the qualities of both sexes in the dialogue with the afterlife, most effective when the death of the chief is still recent. The man is dominant, however, within that bisexual being. He is a powerful protector warrior, aggressive against the enemy, with a prominent sex. The African pre-contact art also had a predilection for the hermaphrodite representation.
On September 16 in Paris, Sotheby's sells a Uli 1.40m tall, lot 32 estimated € 700K. This Wostrack-Krämer specimen addresses together the name of the first German collector and of a scholar traveler who described it as a masterpiece in 1908.
The extremely rare feature of this statue is its double figure: the great Uli holds on his torso another figure three times smaller than him, complete with the same attributes. This Uli brings the evidence that the idealized figure is not a portrait but a symbol of strengths and virtues. The small novice successor of the deceased chief will have to sustain all these qualities.