Stilt step (tapuva'e)

Marquesas Islands
19th–20th century

Object Place: Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia


36.83 cm (14 1/2 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


On View

Arts of Asia, Oceania, and Africa Gallery (Gallery 177)


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art



Marquesan men performed on stilts both for entertainment and for ritual occasions, such as weddings, funerary ceremonies for chiefs and priests, and coming-of-age celebrations. Most performances were contests between opponents that took place on large public ceremonial platforms. Drums provided music for costumed dancers wearing feather head-dresses. Audiences placed wagers on races, mock battles, and other competitions. The contestants on poles up to seven feet high attempted to dislodge each other. Footrests such as this one were lashed to the poles two or three feel from the bottom. The upcurved shape is supported by a stocky caryatid in the form of a tiki, the human image central to the Marquesan belief system. It displays the typical massive legs, closed arms, and large head with well-defined features. Shallow grooves covering the entire body recall the tattoos that beautify the Marquesan men’s and women’s bodies.


May 9, 1987, sold by the Galerie Alain Schoffel, Paris, to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1992, partial gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA; 2014, acquired fully with the bequest of William Teel to the MFA. (Accession Dates: June 30, 1992 and February 26, 2014)

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel