Pre-european Polynesian wood artefact could be 5 centuries old!

The Polynesian sculpture of the antique god A’a was analyzed last year and found to be 5 centuries old at most..

The antique wooden statue is held by the British Museum, London, England. According to the latter :

In 1821, islanders from Rurutu – one of the Austral Islands in French Polynesia – sailed to Ra’iatea in the Society Islands to give A’a to the London Missionary Society (LMS) as a symbol of their conversion to Christianity. After A’a arrived in London in 1823 it was exhibited alongside other Polynesian objects at the LMS Museum. It entered the British Museum in 1890, before formally becoming part of the collection in 1911.

New analysis in 2016

Last year,  it was submitted to a new set of scientific analysis, including a carbon dating. The overall results were quite outstanding. First, a small red feather was found suggesting that the carving was highly sacred, for such feathers were part of the divine symbolism of Ancient Polynesians in theses remote South Pacific Islands.

Then, carbon dating revealed that the sandalwood used dated between 1505 AD and 1645 AD, with a higher probability for  the oldest age. The British Museum declares: This is much earlier than had been anticipated and proves that A’a was already a treasured ancient artefact when given to missionaries in 1821.

Iron tools being totally unknown before the European discovery of Polynesian islands, the sculpture was carved with stone and organic tools, such as animal teeth and bones.

One of the most mysterious artefact of South Pacific Islands

This antique specimen, one of the oldest remaining sacred figure of the South Pacific Ocean, has proven to be extremely endurant over time, even though it was made of wood. This has fueled the mystery surrounding this once highly sacred idol, along with its provenance, its known history and more specifically, its design. The wood sculpture is anthropomorphic, representing an ancient Polynesian God: A’a. Curiously, several smaller humanly figures emerge from all over its body, almost like “living tattoos”.  A cavity is carved out in its back. It may have contained smaller idols or, as a lot of natives from Rurutu believe, the bones of trespassed and respected tribal chiefs. Here is a 3D representation of A’a, published on The British Museum website.

Thoughts of nowadays Rurutu natives on A’a

Even though A’a was taken away from its home island almost 2 centuries ago, the small population of Rurutu has never forgotten it. A few descendants of ancient Rurutu people have given their thoughts to British Museum as can be seen down this page.

For instance, Olivier Lenoir, cultural guide and dancer, declares: My grandparents told me about the existence of this tiki and the story of how Rurutu was converted to Christianity. All the objects belonging to the ancient religion were burnt in a great bonfire, except A’a. His name signifies to touch or caress, as he was a figure that people would visit to ask for help and guidance. In the hollow back of the tiki were kept the bones of chiefs. To my grandparents A’a is a symbol of an unenlightened past.”

As for Silifu, retired Teacher and family historian which happen to be my own aunt, being a half blood Rurutu myself, declares: “I feel a strong connection to this figure. For me, A’a is a representation of a deified ancestor. He is a God figure and would have been carried at the head of a voyaging canoe to guide people on their voyages. I believe the bones of one of my ancestors would have been housed inside A’a.” 

Viriamu Teuruarii, the Guardian of the Tararoa marae declares for his part :
I grew up with my grandfather next to the marae (sacred enclosure) where A’a would have been kept. The story of A’a has shaped my life. I identify with him to the point that I felt it right to have his image tattooed on my body, over my heart.”

The artistic influence of A’a on Picasso & Henry Moore

A’a had also a great impact on contemporary icons, like Picasso and Henry Moore, who where both mesmerized by the antique carving and both got a bronze cast which they erected in their houses.


Via The British Museum and The Art newspaper

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