Atua: Sacred Gods from Polynesia

Front Cover
National Gallery of Australia, 2014 - Art - 256 pages

The Polynesian concept of atua — of gods, figurative objects and associated beliefs — developed over thousands of years and spread throughout the region. The superb examples of sculpture illustrated in this volume provide an island-by-island insight into this rich and intriguing heritage. Intrepid seafarers first discovered Polynesia 3000 years ago and, gradually, the region came to be inhabited by the communities established by these explorers. Across central and eastern Polynesia, from the Cook, Austral, Society and Marquesas islands, the Tuamotu Archipelago, Tahiti, Rapa Nui, the Hawaiian Islands and Aotearoa New Zealand, unique, yet coherent, societies developed. With that a complex and sustaining spiritual world came into being. Sculptures of ancestral gods connected the Polynesians with Te Po, the supernatural world, giving them strength and sacred knowledge. A hierarchy of supernatural beings — atua — resides within Te Po, inhabiting animals and birds, or particular aspects of the landscape. Among the atua were the deified spirits of human ancestors, particularly those famous for their invincibility, political strength or navigation skill. Polynesians created, revered and communicated with their atua in a relationship of profound intimacy. This way of life suffered a violent rupture with the arrival of Christianity in the 18th century. It is this volume's privilege to chronicle the integral role played by the atua in Polynesian daily life through images and text that convey the power of a still-living culture.

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