Gods, chiefs, bodies and basketry in Polynesia

Prof. Steven Hooper (Sainsbury Research Unit)

Gods, chiefs, bodies and basketry in Polynesia

The starting point of the paper is the pair of remarkable Hawaiian basketry reliquary figures, human in form, that contain the skulls and bones of named ancestors. These prompt reflections on the role of basketry in pre-Christian Polynesia to contain and enclose the bodies of significant persons – chiefs or those undergoing important ritual transformations – who wore finely-worked basketry headdresses, gorgets, wrappings and other so-called ornaments. The very act of ‘enbasketing’ appears to have been a process of consecration, thus accounting for the number of religious images of this kind that survive from missionary collections. The combination of basketry with other materials such as feathers, shells and teeth will also be discussed in the context of the importance of assemblages, especially those that involve the body, in the construction of artefactual persons such as ‘chiefs’.


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