The extraordinarily fine lashing and elaborated handle identify this as a ceremonial adze that probably represented the deity Tane-mata-ariki (Tane-of-royal-face). Adzes such as this demonstrate the work of three craft specialties: woodcarving, stonecarving, and cordage work, all of which also were considered ritual activities. Coir cordage (commonly called sennit), made from coconut fiber, was used for binding and lashing throughout Polynesia. The motifs on the wooden handle represent stylized human figures. After the 1820s, when many Cook Islanders converted to Christianity, craftsmen began making adzes with larger and more elaborate shafts, which were sold as souvenirs.
Mangaia, Cook Islands
Early 19th century
Wood, basalt, fiber, sharkskin
L. 32 ¾ in. (83.1 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 74.43.2