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Fan (Tahi)

Throughout Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, elaborately decorated utilitarian objects often serve as emblems of status and sometimes also as insignias of rank. Fans were common throughout Polynesia, serving both functional and decorative purposes. On the Marquesas Islands, male and female chiefs and priests owned large, finely plaited fans with handles made of wood, ivory, or bone, the most elaborate of which were also decoratively carved, as in this example, which may have been an insignia of rank for a female chief. With minor variations, the major motif usually depicted is, as here, the tiki, the Marquesan representation of the human form. Handles such as this, carved from whale ivory—the most valuable of Polynesian materials—would have been heirlooms, becoming more prized and respected with each succeeding generation.

Marquesas Islands
Fan (Tahi)
19th century
Pandanus fiber, whale ivory, human teeth, pigment
W. 22 ½ in. (57.2 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, 2010.8