A Mourning Dress brought back from Tahiti by Captain James Cook

A Mourning Dress brought back from Tahiti by Captain James Cook

Contributor: Barbara Schaff

Location: Göttingen, Germany

Description: This elaborate mourning dress, or heva, stands out as a particularly magnificent example of Tahitian artisanship among the about 2000 ethnographical objects which were either received as presents or tokens of exchange by Cook or members of his crew during Cook’s three Pacific voyages. It is one of only six complete surviving mourning costumes of its kind and testifies to an elaborate mourning practice, also called a heva, which would, with the coming of Christianity, soon become a thing of the past on Tahiti. Brought back to England, it was purchased by the British Crown from the London dealer in ethnographic specimens, George Humphrey, in 1782. It was then sent on to the ethnographic collection of Göttingen University, where it remains. As the only German university founded by a British king in the context of the Personal Union between Hanover and Britain, the scientific contacts between Göttingen, the Royal Society and the British Crown in the 18th century were excellent, as this handsome gift evidences. Its passage from Tahiti through London and on to Germany was also marked by the impression it made upon the late eighteenth-century cultural imagination. The heva was to become one of the most widely circulated images of Tahitian culture in late eighteenth-century Europe.

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