H: 20 cm (7.9”)
Estimated age: End of the 19th century or early 20th century
Provenance: German private collection
Estimate: € 3.000 - 4.000
The figures may represent ancestors. If so, like ancestor images elsewhere in Oceania, they likely served as vehicles through which ancestral spirits could be contacted and venerated during rituals. On Hatobei, seated figures were also used in canoe magic during which malevolent spirits were captured within or lured away by the image that was placed in a model canoe and sent out to sea to expel the spirits from the community.
Artists in a number of areas in the Caroline Islands created similar seated figures, suggesting that these widespread images share a common origin and function. This piece belongs to a small group of examples that show evidence of substantial age and use, indicating that they were used in indigenous contexts. The precise significance of the seated figures, which are often of indeterminate gender like the one here, is uncertain. What historical evidence exists mostly comes from the island of Hatobei, where an archaeologically recovered stone example suggests that the tradition is of some antiquity.
With its stylized facial features and angular body, this figure embodies the sparse, minimalistic approach to the human form typical of Micronesian art. The domed head, slightly open mouth, and drop-shaped big eyes give the face an almost mask-like appearance. The body is rendered as a series of interlocking angular forms with the hands, which are only subtly indicated, resting on the knees. An outstanding and rare figure from the Caroline Islands!