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Statue of God Rao
The anthropomorphic statue of God “Rao” of the island of Mangareva (Gambier archipelago) is one of the most remarkable Polynesian artworks, whose cult is dedicated to fertility.

The statue with masculine attributes is carved in a sacred wood of “miro” or rosewood for its pink hue (Thespesia populnea). At a height of more than one metre by 15 cm wide, the statue, whose face has no expression, is surmounted by a stylized chignon. Its body in normal proportions has arms with a particular geometry that can recall the Polynesian double-hulled canoes.

Rosewood was very popular with sculptors, as much for its quality of finesse as for its symbolic value in the Polynesian culture, reserved for priests and great chiefs.

Rao was among the eleven objects sent by Father Caret to the headquarters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary (or Picpus Congregation) in 1836. Rescued from Idols burning organized on the island, they served as “evidence” of the conversion of the islanders to Christianity and their rejection of “idolatry”. The sculpture was kept for a time at the Musée de Marine du Louvre, before it was transferred to the Musée des Antiquités nationales de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. She then joined the collections of the Musée national des arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie, then the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac. It is presented to the public at the Pavillon des Sessions at the Louvre Museum, along with other masterpieces from this collection.

The God Rao was particularly invoked during the planting ceremonies of the ranga or rega (curcuma longa, re'a Tahiti), plant of the Zingiberaceae family. Its popular root can reach 15 cm long and 2 cm in diameter has an aromatic smell and a spicy taste similar to that of ginger.

In Polynesia, this plant has always had properties considered sacred often related to the fertility of the earth; it was used during rites led by priests, called taura-rega. They conducted the ceremonies offered at the time of its planting but also during the cooking of its roots.

The Curcuma longa, whose yellow pigment, also served as a dye for tapa fabrics, worn by young people during rites of passage. These young men and women were coated with a dye base of this plant and became tabu.

Fare Rata, the French Polynesia Post Office is pleased to make you discover this ambassador statue, rare witness of the cultural wealth of the Gambier archipelago.

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Unit price: 180 FCFP (1,51 €)
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