A’a – a deity from Polynesia, 16th- 17th century AD
116.8 (height) x 36 (width) x 92 (circumference) cm
Rurutu, Austral Islands, Oceania


A’a is a unique sculpture of a god from the Polynesian island of Rurutu in the South Pacific. Thirty small figures form the deity’s features, such as the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. Springing forth, they suggest fertility and the god’s ability to create life. A panel on the back detaches to reveal the figure has a hollow head and torso. It is likely that A’a was created as a reliquary and that the bones of an important ancestor would originally have been stored inside. In 1821, a group of Islanders from Rurutu decided to convert to Christianity. They sailed to the island of Ra’iatea, where European missionaries were based, and presented A’a to John Williams of the London Missionary Society as a symbol of their conversion. A’a entered the British Museum’s collection in 1911 and has become one of its most famous and celebrated pieces. Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore were both inspired by A’a and owned casts of the figure. A’a is still remembered and revered on Rurutu today.
The results of recent tests proved that A’a is much older than had previously been thought and that he is carved from sandalwood.


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