Caroline Islands Weather Charm - Micronesia

The Caroline Islands in Micronesia are home to some of the most accomplished long-distance voyagers in the Pacific. To contend with the formidable and ever-present threat of storms on the open ocean, canoe navigators employ weather magic. An indispensable element of this type of sorcery is the hos, a charm that frequently takes the form of a stylized human image whose "legs" are formed from the daggerlike spines of stingrays, which are the source of its supernatural power.

Hos were formerly made and used widely throughout the Caroline Islands, from Yap in the west to Chuuk in the east. Once a navigator had completed his training, he acquired and consecrated a hos, the wood portion of which could be made by any carver with the necessary skills. Some are relatively naturalistic, but the figures are more frequently janiform and, in some cases, feature two fully modeled torsos depicted back to back. The two figures represent the unity of the gods Aluluei and Aluelap, observing all dangers and offering protection and guidance to voyagers.

Once the charm was completed, the navigator carried it to a specific coconut tree, often a gift from the master navigator who had instructed him. Here he recited a chant asking the local deities to ensure good weather and safe passage to him in all his journeys. Coconut fiber, which has special significance and figures in certain Carolinian esoteric practices, is sometimes bound to the hos.

Before beginning a voyage, the navigator grasps the hos and, sounding a shell trumpet to invoke the spirits, recites a chant to drive away any approaching storms. The charm is then carried aboard, where, in the past, it was often kept in a small spirit house set atop the booms connecting the hull to the outrigger. Coconuts and other offerings to Aluluei were sometimes placed beside the spirit house. If bad weather threatens, the navigator takes the charm and holds it into the wind, reciting incantations. Once the storm has passed, the hos is returned to the spirit house. Back on land, the potent charms are kept in the canoe house and cannot be stored in ordinary dwellings. 

The magnificent hos presented here is of janiform design, with opposed faces in a single head and a fused torso with two separate pairs of arms held akimbo. Its wood surface shows a grey, mottled tone with light speckles, darkened over the head, around the face and at the waist with pigment. The two faces feature calm, focused expressions with gently rounded foreheads, long noses, almond eyes, and small, closed mouths. Below the waist the figure flares into a trapezoidal form in which the stingray spines are affixed, pointing straight down. Strips of coconut fiber are attached to the figure at the wrist and shoulder, and the neck is wound with fiber cord. An additional charm formerly tied to the figure by a thin cord has been retained, consisting of two stingray spines bound together in a bulbous woven bundle. 

Mogemog Island, Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, Micronesia
19th century
Wood, stingray spines, coconut fiber, fiber cord, lime, pigment
16 5/8” h
Provenance:
- Collected in February 1910 during the Hamburger Südsee Expedition
- Christie’s, New York, November 28, 1984, lot 89
- Faith-Dorian and Martin Wright Collection, New York

#592
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