The art of Polynesia is for the most part purely decorative in intent. The chief form of this was perhaps wood carving which was evident in the intricate carved patterns on weapons, canoes and houses. These patterns generally have a symbolic significance in terms of the mythology of the Polynesian people.

In examining decorative objects from different areas of Polynesia, they are all found to be unique and different. Maori carving is an elaborate complex of human figures similar to those found in the far-distant Marquesas. In Tahiti, the tribal art was simple, wooden and stone images that had no patterns whereas in Rarotonga the human figures were more stylized and indicated a succession of generations.

In Tonga, the tribal art has an all over pattern of angular detail containing minute human figures. In Samoa, the only decoration is normally one or two narrow bands around the art work. The important point to notice however is that throughout eastern Polynesia, most patterns have the human figure as a basis, and maybe regarded as the decorative aspect of the commemorative part which produced the Easter Island statues, the marae figures and slabs of the Marquesas and Tahiti and the large wooden tiki in Maori villages.

Marquesas Islands

Carved Marquesas Island bowl.

Marquesas Island bowl.

Cook Islands

Pair of Cook Islands fans
with feathers around the outside edge.


Several traditional figures from the Cook Islands.
 The figure on the right is possibly Te Rongo who the Mangaian Islands consider
to have had three sons who were ancestors of the Ngariki tribe. Other authorities
consider it more likely to be the god Tangaroa in the act of creation.

The Missionary John Williams told how an image similar to this of the fisherman's god was placed on the forepart of every fishing canoe, and prior to setting out offerings were made to him and his support invoked.

Traditionally, this image would probably have represented a fisherman's god called Taringa-Nui.



Traditional Samoan dancing knife.

Carved Samoan war club with inlays.



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Jane Resture
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 17th November 2009)