Welcome to Marquesas

Formed by volcanoes, the Marquesas Islands are known for their dramatic mountains and deep valleys. Marquesans built their settlements in the valleys, each of which was ruled by a distinct tribe.  The practice of abducting sacrificial victims from neighboring rival groups regularly provoked intertribal warfare, as the wronged kinship group sought to avenge the deaths of their relatives.  Before the introduction of firearms in the 19th century, intertribal wars in the Marquesas consisted of battles that focused on displays of strength and spectacle.  Although territory could be won or lost, these wars generally resulted in few deaths.

Marquesan weapons were spears, slings and stones, and two-handed clubs, the best known of which is a long, heavy club called an ‘u’u.  Because of the complexity and beauty of their carvings, these clubs, all of which are similar but no two of which are exactly alike, were particularly attractive to visitors in search of souvenirs.  Old classic ‘u’u are the most numerous Marquesan objects in museum collections worldwide. 

Like other Polynesians, the Marquesans considered the head to be home to a person’s mana, or supernatural power. For this reason, anthropomorphic representations and depictions of the face in particular are frequently found on objects of Marquesan material culture.  Some of the most complex motifs of this kind can be found on the old, classic ‘u’u, on which the elements of stylized faces and eyes dominate the carving on both sides of the double heads