The art of Tahiti and the neighbouring society Austral and Cook Islands.
Until disease, missionary activity and colonization changed the nature of their society, the Tahitians excelled in the production of wooden sculpture, ceremonial costumes and weapons. These artifacts, the creations of the fiercely autocratic and hierarchical society in Tahiti and the neighbouring Cook and Austral Islands, were usually made to exchange the status of chiefs, and elaborate conventions and taboos surrounded their manufacture and use. Images of deities were jealously guarded by chiefs as evidence of their divine descent; the spectacular costumes, often dyed with patterns of leaves and embellished with mother of pearl and sharks’ teeth, would reveal the exact status of the wearer. The superb craftsmanship and the visual impact of these objects caught the imagination of the early European visitors as much as did the legendary beauty of the islands. The illustrations include a great number of these varied artifacts as well as pictures of Tahitian life, including contemporary engravings from Captain Cook’s expedition.
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