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Fly-Whisk Handle (Tahiri Ra’a)

The handle depicts a pair of figures, back-to-back, with elongated faces. Two knobs on the foreheads reflect a hairstyle worn by Austral Islanders. The notches below the double figure may have represented the lineage of the owner and may have served as reminders during genealogical recitations, important for establishing status and rank within Polynesians societies. On the lower shaft, fibers of contrasting colors have been braided in diamond-shaped patterns; the application of these fibers would have been accompanied by prayers, which imbued the whisk with additional mana, or spiritual power. These fibers would have attached the coconut-fiber whisk, now missing, to the handle.

Austral Islands
Fly-Whisk Handle (Tahiri Ra’a)
19th century
Wood, fiber
L. 15 ½ in. (39.4 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, 2010.9