Tapuvae - Marquesan Stilt Steps Tapuvae – Marquesan Stilt Steps Eric Kjellgren A two-level stilt step with a "climbing" tiki above and a "standing" tiki below (see text), the arms of the upper figure have been replaced by smaller tiki images, h: 16 ¼" (41.2 cm) The stilt steps (tapuvae) of the Marquesas Islands are one of the most distinctive art forms in all of Oceania.1 Made in pairs and richly adorned with tiki (human images) shown in a number of poses and styles, stilt steps were functional objects that served as the footrests on Marquesan stilts. Carved from a dense hardwood, stilt steps were lashed to separately-made poles made from a lighter wood to create the finished stilts.2 Sketch showing a complete Marquesan stilt (second from right) flanked by details of the designs on the stilt pole. A detail of the complex lashings used to attach the stilt step to the pole is shown at left. (Steinen 1925-28, Vol. II, fig. 101) The Marquesans, who still practice stilt walking today (fig. 3) appear to be the only Polynesian culture who decorated their stilts. However, stilts were, and, in some places, still are, made and used in many parts of Polynesia, including Tahiti and Raiatea in the Society Islands, Aitutaki, Manihiki, Rakahanga, and, probably, Mangaia in the Cook Islands, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Tuvalu, and, possibly, Samoa.3 While in Tahiti and, in some instances, Aotearoa, stilts were fashioned from a single piece of wood with a side branch cut off to an appropriate length so that the footrest was formed by a natural fork in the tree, in virtually all other cases Polynesian stilts were compound objects, constructed, as in the Marquesas, by lashing a separately-made footrest to a pole with fiber cordage (see fig. 2).4 Two opponents facing off during a contemporary Marquesan stilt walking competition on the island of Ua Pou in 1981. According to the most recent scholarship, Marquesan stilts were called vaeke, stilt steps tapuvae, and stilt poles tōtoko.5 Earlier historical and scholarly sources, however, record a number of variants, local names, and spellings.6 Stilt steps were widely collected either singly or, less frequently, as pairs by Western visitors to the Marquesas between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although no precise count exists, more than one hundred examples are known today in museums and private collections. By contrast, complete Marquesan stilts are extremely rare, comprising only four known pairs, all in museum collections, while no single examples are known.7 Historical and ethnographic accounts record a substantial (though, at times, somewhat vague and contradictory) amount of information on the use of Marquesan stilts. Some, such those of the French explorer Charles Claret, comte de Fleurieu, who claims that the Marquesans used stilts in order to get from place to place during the floods of the annual rainy season, or the later Dutch visitor Pieter Troost, who asserts that they used them to avoid dangerous animals while walking in the forest, seem to be purely fanciful as simply walking on one 's legs would be far more efficient and safer way to accomplish either of these tasks and, with the possible exception of feral pigs, there are no dangerous land animals in the Marquesas.8 Virtually all the other early sources, as well as contemporary Marquesans, report that stilts were used as part of ritual competitions held during of important festivals. Although the ethnographer E. S. Craighill Handy and a number of recent writers assert that stilts were used specifically during funerary rites held for prominent individuals, existing historical and ethnographic accounts strongly suggest that they were used in a broader variety of ceremonial contexts.9 The German explorer Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff, notes simply that stilts were used "…at their great public festivals…".10 Similarly, the later German physician and ethnologist Karl von den Steinen, whose monumental three volume work Die Marquesaner und Ihre Kunst (The Marquesans and their Art) remains the most extensive study of Marquesan art, and who reviews the historical accounts as well as reporting on his own research in the Marquesas, also gives no indication that the use of stilts was restricted to funerary rites.11 Whatever the exact scope of the festivals or other occasions at which stilts were used, accounts indicate that stilt walking was a tapu (sacred) activity accompanied by strict religious protocols and restrictions. Langsdorff recounts that "The best runners on stilts, who perform at the public dancing festivals, are tabooed for three days before; they do not, in consequence, go out, are well fed, and have no intercourse with their wives. This is probably with a view to increasing their strength."12Handy reports that "The use of stilts was strictly forbidden to women" but is the only writer to do so.13 Marquesan stilt walking competitions likely included stilt races but appear to have primarily taken the form of competitions in which two opposing individuals (or, in some instances, opposing groups) met and attempted to cause their opponent(s) to fall to the ground while they remained standing. Steinen provides the most detailed account of these contests, which he recorded during his research in the Marquesas. According to Steinen, when two competitors met, each tried to use one of their stilts to strike one of their opponent 's stilts and sweep them off their feet so that they fell. The striker did not attack their opponent face on but from the side, attempting to hit the opponent 's stilt with one of their own in a sweeping arc-like motion. When the two contestants got close to each other, the first would move backwards a little and attempt to strike. At the same time the second would repeatedly raise and lower one of their stilts a short distance off the ground and the first would try to strike it while the stilt was raised. But, just as the first opponent swung his stilt to strike, the second would attempt to quickly lift their stilt higher than expected so that the blow would miss.14 This would, presumably, throw the first opponent off balance so that they either fell or allowed the second to quickly counterattack and send their rival to the ground. Langsdorff notes that, when one opponent succeeded in knocking the other down "…the person thrown becomes the laughing-stock of the whole company."15 Steinen notes that, in some instances, rival villages challenged each other to group competitions in which multiple rows of stilt walkers attacked those from the opposing village at the same time.16 As in the past, during contemporary Marquesan stilt walking competitions two opponents meet and attempt to knock each other down (see fig. 3).17 A single-level stilt step with a "standing" tiki figure, h: 14" (35.5 cm) Carved from a single piece of wood, Marquesan stilt steps are roughly triangular in profile (fig. 4) with an upwardly curving section, which I will call the "tread," that held the user 's foot, and long straight back that tapered to a narrow beak-like projection at the base.18 The back also had a curved groove hollowed out on the reverse side in order to make it fit tightly against the (round) stilt pole. Running diagonally between the back and the tread was a supporting strut, which Steinen likens to the "hypotenuse" of the triangle, carved in the form of one or more tiki (human images).19 Tiki are the fundamental motifs in nearly all Marquesan art. According to one oral tradition, Tiki (with a capital "T") was a primordial supernatural being who created his wife, Hina-tu-na-one, from sand. Together, they had a son and a daughter who became the ancestors of humankind for whom Tiki created first the island of Nuku Hiva and then the other islands of the Marquesas in succession as the number of their descendants grew. When Tiki moved on to create the other islands, the people of Nuku Hiva, fearing he would never return, carved a stone image of him to remember him by, creating the first tiki.20 In a broader symbolic sense, scholar Carol Ivory suggests that the meanings of tiki images at once embody the related but opposing concepts of creativity, life, and male sexual potency as well as death, the ancestral world, and supernatural power.21 In terms of the specific significance on tiki on stilt steps, the British naval office John Shillibeer reports that tiki were sacred images of deified family ancestors that were "…principally used for the tops of crutches, or stilts, as they [Marquesans] are superstitious enough to suppose, that when they rest on these images they will be secure from injury; and if by accident they are unfortunate enough to stumble, its seldom they live long afterwards; for if the Priest [tuhuka o 'oko/tuhuka o 'ono]22 cannot satisfactorily appease the anger or the Tutelar Eatooa [etua (deity)], they fancy they labour under his displeasure and with an unequalled resignation and calmness starve themselves to death."23 The tiki figures on Marquesan stilt steps are depicted in one of three fundamental poses, which Steinen calls "standing," "climbing," and "caryatid" tiki and, as they seem as apt as any, I will adopt these terms here. Standing tiki (fig. 4), depict the figure in a standing position facing away from the stilt pole with the knees slightly flexed and the hands resting on the stomach (although, in rare instances, one hand is shown raised to the mouth or chin). Engraving showing two views of a two-level stilt step collected in 1791 by French explorer Étienne Marchand, with a "climbing" tiki figure at the top (a smaller "standing" tiki figure appears below). (Claret de Fleurieu, n.d. [1798-1800]: Vol. I, Pl. V) Climbing tiki (fig. 5) depict the figure with its body facing the stilt pole and the arms and legs flexed (as though tiki were climbing up the trunk of a tree) while the head is rotated 180 degrees so that it faces away from the pole. Apart from their heads, the most prominent features of climbing tiki are their large protruding buttocks, which are often adorned with concentric circular motifs (see fig. 5). The precise significance of this feature of "climbing" tiki is not recorded. However, in the Marquesas, as in the West, deliberately displaying the buttocks to another person or group is considered an extremely disrespectful and provocative act. In describing a battle between rival groups on Nuku Hiva, American naval officer Capt. David Porter notes that the enemy "…scoffed at our men, and exposed their posteriors to them, and treated them with the utmost contempt and derision."23 Given that stilt steps were used in competitions, it therefore seems far more likely that the "climbing" tiki images on them actually depict a figure displaying its buttocks to the opponent in an act of derision and challenge (see figs. 1, 5). A single-level stilt step with a "caryatid" tiki figure, h: 13 ½" (34.2 cm) Named for the anthropomorphic supporting figures from ancient Greek sculpture that they resemble, the somewhat rarer caryatid tiki (fig. 6) are shown as seated or crouching figures facing away from the pole, with their arms upraised to touch the underside of the tread as though they were holding it up. Details of the side (left) and front (right) of a two-level stilt step with a double tiki image. Both are caryatid tiki but are unusual in having only one upraised arm. The tiki at left is male as indicated by a knob-like projection representing the phallus, which the other (presumably female) figure lacks. A smaller tiki head appears below. Collection of Karl von den Steinen. (Steinen 1925-28, Vol. II, fig. 249) The rarest form of stilt steps are those with "double" tiki images depicting two standing or modified caryatid tiki figures on a single level shown back to back (fig. 7) positioned either completely back to back with their faces parallel to the pole (as in fig. 7, right) or with their bodies or heads turned so that they face either partially or completely away from it. Steinen documents four such double tiki images and notes that, in all of them, one tiki is male (as indicated by a small knob-like projection representing the phallus (see fig. 7, left) whilfe the other is female (as it lacks this projection and shows no indication that it originally had one that was later removed).25 Along with the three basic poses, Steinen notes that (except for double tiki) tiki images always occur in one of two configurations – either on a single level with a single tiki figure (figs. 4, 6), or on two levels (figs. 1, 5, 7 and 8) in which a larger tiki figure positioned above a smaller tiki image, shown either as a complete figure (as in figs. 1, 5, and 8) or simply as a head (as in fig. 7), or face.26 In rare instances, a tiki face may also be carved into the upturned end of the tread. Sketch of an unusual stilt step collected by the U.S. Exploring Expedition between 1838 and 1842, h: ca. 12 ½ in. (32 cm). The original is now in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. (E3792-0). (Steinen 1925-28, Vol. II, fig. 108) Having identified the three fundamental poses and two basic configurations of tiki on Marquesan stilt steps, Steinen provides an exhaustive discussion of the variants and combinations in which they appear and I will not repeat it here.28 One unusual example, however, is worth noting as it includes several rarely seen variants of the tiki image within a single object (fig. 8). Collected during the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-42 by American naval officer Thomas Budd, it is a two-level stilt step in which the upper tiki is shown with the head and torso facing away from the pole and the hands resting on the stomach as in a "standing" tiki while the legs and buttocks are rotated 180 degrees and shown in the "climbing" tiki position. The upper tiki also exhibits the replacement of the limbs with smaller tiki images that occurs on some stilt steps with what appear to be a second pair of upraised "arms" (as also seen in fig. 1) as well as its legs carved in the form of smaller tiki figures. The additional replacement of the buttocks with tiki heads, however, is unique to this example.29 In the lower standing tiki figure, the face is elongated into a snout-like form that stretches down to the knees. This form of tiki image, known as a tiki nasau, is extremely rare in Marquesan art and likely combines the upper features of a human face with the snout of a pig, a highly important sacred and sacrificial animal in Marquesan culture.30 Except for those portions of the stilt step that would eventually be covered by the lashings (see figs. 2, 5), virtually the entire surface of the tread and tiki figure(s) were decorated with shallow engraved designs consisting of fine, parallel lines forming angular (or, occasionally, curving) geometric patterns (see figs. 4, 6, 7 and 8). On the upper surface of the tread, these shallow interlacing grooves likely served, at least in part, a practical function, providing extra traction for the user 's foot. Elsewhere, they appear to be purely decorative. On some examples, the geometric patterns that appear on the upward curving portion of the tread that rests atop at the head of the tiki figure resemble the form of the towering feather headdresses known as ta 'avaha made from the iridescent tail feather of roosters.31 An early nineteenth century engraving of a young man from Nuku Hiva. The tattoos on his body show the zonation of tattoo designs and concentric circles on the buttocks seen on the tiki figures of some Marquesan stilt steps. ("A Young Nukuhiwan Not Completely Tattoed," 1813, copperplate engraving after a watercolor by Wilhelm Gottlieb Tilesius von Tilenau (German, 1769-1857)), 10 3/8 x 7 7/8 in. (26.4 x 20 cm)) On the bodies of the tiki figures, the engraved designs almost certainly represent the elaborate tattooing for which Marquesan art is renowned which, in many cases, completely covered the individual 's body from head to toe (fig. 9). Steinen correctly notes that, except for occasional recognizable tattoo motifs that appear on the faces of some examples (see fig. 4), the body designs on stilt step tiki do not accurately depict actual tattoo patterns.31 However, Marquesan body tattoo designs were so intricate and complex that, especially considering the carving tools available, it would have been all but impossible to depict them precisely on such a small scale. The fact that the designs on the bodies of most stilt step tiki are not uniform but, like those on the man in the engraving (Fig. 9), occur in distinct zones (as in Fig. 4) and that, likewise, the buttocks of climbing tiki (see fig. 5, right) are typically adorned with similar concentric circular motifs both indicate that the body designs almost certainly depict tattoos. For practical reasons, stilt steps were presumably carved in pairs. However, an interesting aspect of the two surviving pairs of complete Marquesan stilts of which images are readily available, is that the tiki figures on the two stilt steps do not match (in both instances consisting of one standing and one climbing tiki). Once completed, stilt steps were lashed to the pole at the top and base with braided coconut fiber cordage (keikaha/keikana), which, in at least some instances, was interlaced to form decorative lashing patterns (see fig. 2) that were sometimes created using two contrasting colors of cordage.33 The upper lashings passed through a hole pierced through the body of the stilt behind the head or neck of the main tiki figure while a separate lower lashing was bound tightly around the beak-like projection at the base.34 In addition to the lashings, Steinen notes that a piece of barkcloth was inserted between the stilt step and pole prior to lashing while the pointed base rested on a small protrusion on the pole to further prevent it from slipping down.35 Based on the surviving examples, the poles themselves were adorned with geometric designs engraved into the wood, which, in some cases were partly accented with paint (see fig. 2).36 A pair of stilt steps from the late nineteenth century carved for the Western market showing the detailed but more rigid and angular style characteristic of Marquesan carvings from the period. (Steinen 1925-28, Vol. II, fig. 100) Perhaps owing to the growing influence of Christian missionaries, who would have frowned on such raucous events as stilt walking competitions, the production of intricately carved stilt steps for indigenous use likely ceased sometime in the early 1800s. However, possibly because of their unusual form and function, they were clearly highly sought after by early Western visitors, as evidenced by the substantial numbers that exist in museums and private collections today. Ivory even suggests that, owing to their popularity with Western collectors, stilt steps might have been the first Marquesan art form to be created expressly for sale to outsiders.37 Certainly, by the end of the 1800s, examples were being produced in the late nineteenth century carving style made familiar through the works of the Marquesas ' most famous expatriate resident, the Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin (fig. 10). But, while the use of carved stilt steps ceased, the practice of Marquesan stilt walking survived, although it may have been briefly interrupted or practiced in secret. In recent decades, stilt walking has undergone a revival (fig. 3) and, together with the exquisitely carved stilt steps once created for it, today endures as one of the most lasting and distinctive expressions of Marquesan art and culture. References: Best, Elsdon. 1976. Games and Pastimes of the Maori. Wellington: A. R. Shearer. Dening, Greg. 1980. Islands and Beaches: Discourse on a Silent Land: Marquesas 1774 – 1880. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Dordillon, Ildephonse-René. 1999 : Grammaire et Dictionnaire de la Lange des Îles Marquises. Tahiti: Société des Études Océaniennes. Reprint of edition published Paris: Belin Frères, 1904. Claret de Fleurieu, Charles Pierre. n.d. [1798-1800]. Voyage Autour du Monde Pendant les Années 1790, 1791, et 1792 par Étienne Marchand. Vol I. Paris: L 'Imprimerie de la République. Handy, E. S. Craighill. 1923. The Native Culture in the Marquesas. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, No. 9. Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum. Ivory, Carol. 1999. Art, Tourism, and Cultural Revival in the Marquesas Islands. In: Phillips, Ruth B. and Christopher B. Steiner (eds.). Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 316-33. Ivory, Carol. 2005. Art and Aesthetics in the Marquesas Islands. In: Kjellgren, Eric and Carol Ivory. Adorning the World: Art of the Marquesas Islands. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press. pp. 25-38. Ivory, Carol (ed.). 2016. Mata Hoata Arts et Société aux Îles Marquises. Ex. Cat. Musée du Quai Branly, Paris. Paris: Actes Sud. Kjellgren, Eric with Carol Ivory. 2005. Adorning the World: Art of the Marquesas Islands. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press. Koch, Gerd (translated by Guy Slatter). n.d. [orig. German 1961]. The Material Culture of Tuvalu. Suva, Fiji: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific. Langsdorff, Georg Heinrich von. 1813. Voyage and Travels in Various Parts of the World during the Years 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806, and 1807. Part I. London: Henry Colburn. Panoff, Michel (ed.) et al. 1995. Trésors des Îles Marquises. Exh. Cat. Musée de l 'Homme, Paris. Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux. Porter, David. 1822. Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean by Captain David Porter in the United States Frigate Essex in the Years 1812, 1813, and 1814, Second Edition, Vol. II. New York: Wiley and Halsted, J. & J. Harper, Printers. Shillibeer, John. 1817. A Narrative of the Briton 's Voyages to Pitcairn 's Island. Taunton: J. W. Marriott. Steinen, Karl von den. 1925-28. Die Marquesaner unt Ihre Kunst, 3 vols. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer. Steinen, Karl von den (translated by Almut and Jean Pagès). 2005 . Les Marquisiens et Leur Art, Volume II: Plastique. Tahiti: Musée de Tahiti et des Îles – Te Fare Iamanaha. Te Rangi Hīroa (Peter H. Buck). 1927. The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki). New Plymouth, New Zealand: Thomas Avery & Sons, Ltd. -----. 1930. Samoan Material Culture. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 75. Honolulu: Bishop Museum. -----. 1932. Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 99. Honolulu: Bishop Museum. -----. 1971 . Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 179. New York: Kraus Reprint Co. 1 The Marquesan language has two regional dialects. Contemporary Marquesans call their homeland Te Henua ‘Enana in the northern islands (Nuku Hiva, Ua Huka and Ua Pou) and Te Fenua ‘Enata in the southern islands (Hiva Oa, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva) respectively, both names meaning "The Land of the People." The islands derive their Western name from the first European to encounter them, Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendaña de Neira, who named them "Las Marquesas de Mendoza" in 1595 in honor of his patron, Don García Hurtado de Mendoza, marquis de Cañete, the viceroy of Peru (Dening 1980: 11). Later visitors and authors shortened this simply to the Marquesas Islands, or, in French, Les Îles Marquises. 2 The wood used for Marquesan stilt steps is generally identified as mi 'o, the Marquesan term for the Pacific rosewood tree (Thespesia populnea), while the poles were reportedly made from a lighter wood known as fau (Ivory (ed.) 2016: 303, Handy 1923:297). But, although these woods are generally cited as the types used for Marquesan stilts in the literature, to the author 's knowledge, few, if any, scientific identifications of actual samples of the wood(s) used in Marquesan stilt steps or poles have ever been performed. 3 For discussion of other Polynesian stilt walking traditions see: Tahiti (Best 1976: 145, Steinen 2005 : 249, Raiatea (Steinen 2005 : 249), Aitutaki (Te Rangi Hīroa 1927: 329-30, 1971 : 260), Manihiki and Rakahanga (Te Rangi Hīroa 1932: 196), Mangaia (the American Museum of Natural History in New York holds a pair of stilts collected on Mangaia in 1960 (80.1/4259 A-B), suggesting they were present in earlier times), Aotearoa (Best 1976: 145-6), Tuvalu (Koch n.d. : 178-9). Te Rangi Hīroa notes the existence of stilt walking in Samoa but states that he was unable to obtain information as to whether the practice was customary or a later introduction (Te Rangi Hīroa 1930: 552). 4 Best 1976: 145-6, Steinen 2005 : 249. 5 Ivory (ed.) 2016: 144. 6 For variants of the names of stilts and their components see (Steinen 2005 : 60, 249, Handy 1923: 297), Dordillon defines vaeake as "the god of those who walk on stilts." (Dordillon 1999 : 288, Kjellgren and Ivory 2005: 98). 7 These four pairs are today in the collections of the British Museum, London, the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, the Musée d 'Histoire Naturelle, Lille, and the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), St. Petersburg (see Steinen 2005 : 60, ). Although Steinen 's survey is limited to collections in Europe and the United States, a preliminary search of available online databases for museum collections in Aotearoa and Australia yielded no additional examples. 8 Claret de Fleurieu n.d. n.d. [1798-1800]: 132-3, Ivory (ed.) 2016: 144). 9 C.f. Handy 1923: 297, Panoff 1995: 131, Ivory (ed.) 2016: 144. 10 Kjellgren and Ivory 2005: 96. 11 See Steinen 1925-28. The original German edition of Steinen 's work is among the rarest and most sought after works on Oceanic Art. Because of its continuing importance as a resource on Marquesan art, a French language edition was issued by the Musée de Tahiti et des Îles – Te Fare Iamanaha in 2005 in order to make the information more accessible to Marquesan and other Francophone readers. 12 Langsdorff 1813, Vol I: 136. 13 Handy 1923: 297. 14 Steinen 2005 : 60. 15 Langsdorff 1813, Vol I: 168-9. 16 Steinen 2005 : 60. 17 Dr. Barry Rollett, personal communication, 2022. 18 Unlike many Western examples, Marquesan stilts were not secured directly to the wearer 's leg. Instead, the user 's foot simply rested on the tread of the stilt step while upper portion of the pole was held in the hand (see fig. 3). 19 Steinen 2005 : 125. 20 Ivory 2005: 29-30. 21 Ivory 2005: 28-31. 22 In those cases where the words for objects and activities differ in the northern and southern dialects Marquesan language the northern form is given first followed by the southern. 23 Shillibeer 1817: 40. 24 Porter 1822: 40. 25 See Steinen 2005 : 252 and fig. 249. 26 Steinen 2005 : 251. 27 See Kjellgren and Ivory 2005: pp. 96-7, no. 67. 28 Readers interested in reading Steinen 's discussion of the imagery of Marquesan stilt steps in full can find it on pages 123-136 and 249-255 in Volume II of the French language edition (Steinen 2005 ). 29 See Steinen 2005 : 129-33. 30 See Kjellgren and Ivory 2005: 47. Tiki nasau, images are extremely rare in Marquesan art and are only recorded on three stilt steps, a war club (‘u 'u), a wooden bowl, and a bone toggle (ivi po 'o). 31 Ivory (ed.) 2016: 148. 32 Steinen 2005 : 125. 33 The use of contrasting colors of cordage to create decorative patterns in stilt step lashings can be seen on a pair of stilts now in the British Museum (Oc.207.a-b). 34 Steinen 2005 : 125. 35 Steinen 2005 : 251. 36 Steinen 2005 : 125. 37 Ivory 1999: 318.