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Figure (Kareau)

Arts of the Pacific Islands

Wood carvings from the Nicobar Islands are very rare, and only two other examples are known of this type, a heavy-bodied, crouching figure with a turtle carapace on the back. The figure's extraordinarily long arms, set in sockets, stretch forward. The face is anthropomorphic: the eyes are pointed ovals of shell; the mouth, with square-cut teeth, opens to reveal the tongue; and traces of the original bright red paint remain on the teeth, tongue, and lips. The figure wears a chin-strap helmet, pointed at the top in the Malayan manner. It suggests that the style derives from some part of the Malay Peninsula, where related dialects are spoken. The only recorded use of wood sculpture in this area was in forms of henta-koi, or "scare devils," intended to keep malevolent spirits at bay.
MEDIUM Wood, shell, pigment
DATES 19th century
DIMENSIONS 29 x 17 1/2 x 25 1/2 in. (73.7 x 44.5 x 64.8 cm)  (show scale)
CREDIT LINE Ella C. Woodward Memorial Fund and Museum Collection Fund
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Carved wooden figure with outstretched arms, open mouth and bent knees. The eyes are inlaid with shell and the lips as well as beard show traces of red paint. The figure is carved with a shell-like covering on its back and a hat which resembles a helmet. Its open mouth reveals a double row of square-cut teeth and a protruding tongue. The Nicobarese used the figure to scare away evil spirits.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Figure (Kareau), 19th century. Wood, shell, pigment, 29 x 17 1/2 x 25 1/2 in. (73.7 x 44.5 x 64.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Ella C. Woodward Memorial Fund and Museum Collection Fund, 63.57. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 63.57_SL1.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 63.57_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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