J Dadly (Artist), John Webber

A Night dance by men, in Hapaee

A Night dance by men, in Hapaee by J Dadly, John Webber

Artwork Detail

Webber travelled to Ha’apai, one of the islands of Tonga, while employed as an artist on Captain Cook’s third voyage to the Pacific in 1777. While there he completed sketches of the locals and their customs, which were then engraved and published as formal documentation of the exploratory voyage. This engraving records record the performance of a group night dance called the me’elaufola for Captain Cook and his crew. Such ceremonies were part of the protocol innovated for the reception of exploring parties, in which locals and European explorers showcased their authority and forged relationships through impressive displays. Usually performed in a remote location and lit with torchlight, the me’elaufola was thought to harness sacred powers from Pulotu, the Afterworld. The rhythm of the dancers’ feet, extended arm movements, and thuds of bamboo canes escalated to a frenzied crescendo of noise, prompting ecstatic revelations and visions of the spiritual world. In Webber’s engraving the dancers’ bodies are lit from below, shrouding the scene with an atmosphere of anticipation and mysticism.

A Night dance by men, in Hapaee
J Dadly, John Webber
Production date
18th century
224 x 342 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
Accession no
Other ID
O/476 Old Accession Number, U/65/A
No known copyright restrictions
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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