Oceania, Marquesas Islands (French Polynesia), ca. late 18th to 19th century CE. Wow! A stunning pa'e kaha, a coronet worn by Marquesan men made of shell, tortoise shell, and sennit (coconut fiber). Three thick panels of tortoise shell, each formed by wrapping it in leaves and heating it to bend it into this curved form, are carved with relief and openwork motifs of tiki figures. These alternate with thinner creamy white triton shell panels, with two at one end. All of these are held in place by sennit cord, threaded into a tightly woven sennit headband that has two loops at its back for fastening around the head. Size on stand: 8" W x 3.5" H (20.3 cm x 8.9 cm); 13.6" H (34.5 cm) on included custom stand.
Marquesans adorned themselves with many ornaments for special occasions, especially on their heads. Simple caps were called "pa'e" and the much rarer headdress form is a variant of that world, "pa'e kaha". The headdress was worn specifically on the island of Hiva Oa, while the people of Nuku Hiva wore another type known as pa'e ku'a. These beautiful coronets were owned by families and passed down as heirlooms, so that patriarchs could wear them across the generations. It is believed that these headdresses were worn with the panels down, forming a kind of visor or protective screen, and European illustrations from the 19th century generally agree with this interpretation.
Tiki figures originated in the Marquesas, and spread throughout most of Polynesia, often with local twists (for example, the moai of Easter Island are believed to be a form of tiki). They represent the ancestor Ti'i who is half human, half god and represents the first man. He is often shown with his hands over his chest and stomach, as here. His head is large to emphasize his power; his large eyes represent his great knowledge.
See a similar example that sold at Christie's Paris in 2011 for EUR 37,000 ($45,000 USD): https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/sculptures-statues-figures/couronne-paekaha-iles-marquises-5450766-details.aspx?from=salesummary&intObjectID=5450766&sid=7dfa930f-6130-4054-b77e-88122f7cdc3c
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-Mark Blackburn collection, Hawaii, USA; ex-Abraham Rosman collection, New York, New York, USA
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Tiny chips from peripheries and one small loss from the top of one of the tortoise shell panels. Otherwise in great condition with rich patina on all surfaces.