1822: Iles Sandwich – Vue du Morai du Roi a Kayakakoua 

Commented by: Marion Bertin

Material description

Iles Sandwich – Vue du Morai du Roi a Kayakakoua drawn by Nicolas-Eustache Maurin after Jacques Arago’s sketchbook, lithograph by Kaeppelin and Cie, published in Arago, Jacques, Promenade autour du monde pendant les années 1817, 1818, 1819 et 1820, sur les corvettes du Roi l’Uranie et la Physicienne, Paris : Leblanc, 1822. File : http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-138458844/view. Also (another publication by Jacques Arago : Voyage autour du monde : Souvenir d’un aveugle) : http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6543058n/f244.double

Translocated objects:
God figure, 1790-1814, Hawaii, breadfruit tree wood, 267 cm, Donated by W. Howard in 1839, London, British Museum, Oc1839,0426.8
God figure, 1790-1814, Hawaii, breadfruit tree wood, 199 cm, Gift from John T. Price, Salem, Peabody Essex Museum, E12071
God figure, 1790-1814, Hawaii, breadfruit tree wood, Honolulu, Bishop Museum

Short summary

When Louis de Freycinet and Jacques Arago visited the Hawaii islands in 1819, the inhabitants were living a political and religious crisis after King Kamehameha I’s death. French navals are among the last witnesses of the traditional culture and religion of the Hawaiian archipelago. Even if they also reflect the contemporary feelings and thoughts, their depictions of sacred places in the islands are the last known before they were abandoned and the objects subsequently moved to Europe.

Description and comments

The lithograph Iles Sandwich – Vue du Morai du Roi a Kayakakoua by Kaeppelin and Cie was made after a drawing by Nicolas-Eustache Maurin (1799-1850). It is also a copy after Jacques Arago’s sketchbook (1790-1855), the artist of the voyage of circumnavigation by the two corvettes l’Uranie and la Physicienne under command of Louis de Freycinet (1779-1841) between 1817 and 1820. This voyage was state-sponsored by France, at a moment of rivalry with Great Britain and of early colonial ambitions. Its goals were to collect data and make observations on geography, ethnology, botany, meteorology, zoology. Freycinet published the results of these studies (Freycinet, 1825), as Jacques Arago who reported the voyage in his journal (Arago, 1822). They visited Hawaii in 1819 for a few weeks.

This image depicts a heiau, a ceremonial and sacred enclosure used for sacrifices and collective rites in Hawaiian religion. It appears in disrepair. An oracle tower and an offering platform are encircled with ten standing sculptures, but one is lying on the ground. In carved wood, they represent Kuka’ilimoku, the god of war and King Kamehameha I’s (1758-1819) main god. Two French men and an islander are visiting the place and looking at a sculpture on the foreground of the image. In representing the sculptures, the sketcher has improved on the ape-like faces of the god images and showed an animal skeleton on the offering platform, expressing preconceptions about sacrificial practices of the Polynesian religions at this time.

Before the archipelago was unified and its name changed to Hawaii in 1810, James Cook (1728-1779) who was the first European to visit the islands in 1778 had called them the Sandwich Islands. The place was called ‘morai’ in the title by the French explorers as a reference to the Tahitian name ‘marae’ that referred to platforms used for similar practices. ‘Kayakakoua’ refers to a bay on the ‘Owhyhi island’ (Freycinet, 1825) but both these two names changed and it must now be the Kailua-Kona bay, on the island of Hawai’i (Hooper, 2006).

Kamehameha I, known also as Kamehameha the Great, became the first who unified the different Hawaiian chiefdoms to establish a kingdom since 1810. Under his reign, mainly between 1790 and 1814, many heiau were built with sculptures of Kuka’ilimoku. These representations are included into the so-called ‘Kona style’, featuring the big head, the aggressive mouth, the rolled up nostrils, the stretched eyes, and the marks on the wood made by the iron tools that are visible on the sculptures.

This image doesn’t show the moment of the removal of the sculptures but helps to understand how the heiau came to be progressively abandoned by the population. When Freycinet and his ship arrived in Hawaii, Kamehameha I had died just three months ago and the Hawaiians were going through a moment of crisis and at a turning-point of their history. French naval officers were precious witnesses of the Hawaiian traditional culture before it radically changed and delivered accounts and images, even if they were not attentive to every aspect of the cultural life. During the following years, Hawaiian people converted Christians, so that the taboo system was abolished and the figures on the heiau were destroyed (Valeri, 1985).

Only three figures survived and are now held in the collections of the British Museum in London, the Bishop Museum in Honolulu and the Essex Peabody Museum of Salem. They may have been collected on this heiau after its full abandonment (Hooper, 2006). They were reunified for the first time and exhibited together for the exhibition E Kū Ana Ka Paia: Unification, Responsibility and the Kū Images, presented at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu in 2010. This presentation happened at a moment of revitalisation of the ancient culture and religion in Hawaii. It’s a good example of how object values changes and the growing importance of heritage in Polynesian contemporary societies.

About the author

After studying the history of art and museology, Marion Bertin started a PhD in anthropology at the Ecole du Louvre and the Université de La Rochelle. She works on circulations and values of oceanic objects in private and public collections. Her research deals with the different values – aesthetic, economic, artistic, sacred, patrimonial – that can be attributed to a same object depending on diverse contexts, such as so-called tribal art market, museums, heritage. She has pursued her interests in museums studies and is an active member of the International Committee for Museology (ICOFOM).


Arago, Jacques, Promenade autour du monde pendant les années 1817, 1818, 1819 et 1820, sur les corvettes du Roi l’Uranie et la Physicienne, Paris : Leblanc, 1822.

Freycinet, Louis de, Voyage autour du monde exécuté sur les corvettes de S. M. “l’Uranie” et “la Physicienne” pendant les années 1817, 1818, 1819 et 1820, Paris : Pillet, 1825.

Hooper, Steven, Pacific Encounters. Art & Divinity in Polynesia 1760-1860, London : The British Museum Press, 2006.

Valeri, Valerio, Kingship and sacrifice. Ritual and society in ancient Hawaii, Chicago & London : The University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Cite this article as:
1822: Iles Sandwich – Vue du Morai du Roi a Kayakakoua , commented by 
Marion Bertin, in: Translocations. Ikonographie: A collection of commented image sources on cultural heritage relocations since antiquity, http://transliconog.hypotheses.org/kommentierte-bilder-2/1822-iles-sandwich-vue-du-morai-du-roi-a-kayakakoua, published 17/05/2018.
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