Lidded Bowl (Kotue), late 18th–early 19th century
'Enana (Marquesan) people, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
Wood; L. 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Evelyn A. J. Hall, 1986 (1986.476.4a,b)
Among the most elegant works from the Marquesas Islands are the bird-shaped bowls known as kotue. Only about a dozen examples survive, all of which exhibit the same unusual imagery in which a small human head is depicted on the end of a lidded bowl, whose gracefully curving form otherwise suggests the body and tail of a bird. Only about a dozen of these remarkable vessels are known.
Versatile as well as elegant, bird-shaped bowls were first described by European explorers in the eighteenth century and a number of different functions are assigned to them in the historic sources. Fitted with removable lids to protect their contents, kotue were used to store a variety of items, including popoi, a paste made from pounded breadfruit that is a staple of the Marquesan diet. They were also used to safeguard ornaments and other valuables as well as 'eka (turmeric), a precious yellow-orange powder used to adorn the skin.