Mangareva is a small group of islands east of Tahiti in Polynesia. When the islands were first contacted by the outside world, the Mangarevans had a polytheistic religion and created wooden images of a number of different gods. By 1836 virtually all these images had been destroyed at the insistence of Christian missionaries, and only about a dozen survive today. Overall, Mangarevan religion was similar to that of other Polynesian peoples. The Mangarevans had two groups of gods: an older more remote group responsible for the creation of the cosmos and a second more functional group associated with the activities of everyday life. Because most Mangarevan figures were destroyed early on, there is little specific information on their nature and use, and the identity of the god represented by this figure remains unknown. European accounts indicate that a wooden image was carved when "a new god had spoken through the mouth of a priest." The figures were kept in temple structures at sacred areas called "marae" under the care of religious specialists.
[Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1953]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1953, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1978
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