Stilt step

19th century
Tools and Equipment
15 5/8 × 2 3/4 × 4 in. (39.69 × 6.99 × 10.16 cm)
Arts of the Pacific Islands
Arts of the Pacific Islands - Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Level 3
Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation

General Description

Stilt walking was a favorite sport in the Marquesas Islands. Children were often proficient by the age of ten, and the most accomplished men were able to perform somersaults and other acrobatic feats. Formal contests, which included wagered racing and mock battles, were held during festivals.

Each stilt consisted of a pole, five to seven feet long and two inches in diameter, and a step or foot support, which was lashed to the pole two or three feet above the ground. A stylized human figure is the dominant sculptural theme. The body is characteristically columnar and frontal, with the arms held close to the torso and the legs often flexed. The head is large with features rendered precisely in low relief. The figures on the Marquesan stilt step show patterned elements on both face and, on the smaller lower figure, on the body as well. These represent tattoos. Tattooing was an art of the greatest prestige in the Marquesas, as in other parts of Polynesia, and the quality and quantity of a person's tattoos were a mark of his rank and of his mana, or stored, sacred inner force.

Drawn from

  • DMA Label text.

  • DMA Unpublished material, 1976.

  • Mata Hoata: arts et société aux îles Marquises, Carol Ivory, ed. (Paris: Musée du quai Branly; Arles: Actes sud, 2016.

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