Ce superbe reimiro présente, sous leur forme la plus classique, tous les caractères énumérés ci-dessus. Ses dimensions et ses proportions le placent au cœur du très étroit corpus des objets de ce type. Enfin, l’adoucissement des reliefs et les profondes usures qui entament le bord externe des bossettes perforées – où passait le lien de suspension –, attestent du très long usage de cet insigne réservé aux sommets de l’aristocratie pascuane.
Gorget, reimiro, Easter Island
By Michel Orliac
In 1868, during the visit of HMS Topaze, the surgeon John Linton Palmer saw and described a hitherto unknown object: ‘the men wore a gorget made of hard wood, lunate in shape, and each end terminated in a head; the concavity was uppermost.’ Although he did not give the object its name, reimiro, Linton Palmer provides a chronology, which he probably formed based on observation of patina and wear, noting that ‘the profile of the face in the oldest gorgets was very aquiline.’ In 1872, Pierre Loti hung one of these gorgets in his cabin aboard the Flore, mistaking it for a boomerang brought back from Australia…In 1877, Alphonse Pinart also drew attention to this type of ‘gorget’, worn on the chest, again without knowing its meaning or its name. This information was finally revealed in 1882 during the scientific mission of the German gunboat Hyäne, when Alexander Salmon presented a ‘reimiro, a gorget belonging to the king of Rapanui in 1882, dating back 250-300 years…[the property of] tribal chief Hangeto’ to Weisser, the ship’s steward. According to Salmon, a resident of the island and sheep farmer who provided scholars with information, this item was ‘worn on the chest by chiefs during dances.’
Almost two generations later, in 1914, Katherine Routledge noted that reimiro ‘was especially a woman’s decoration, but a number of small ones were said to have been worn by Ngaara [the last king of the island].’  Finally, in 1940, Alfred Métraux was told that the smaller women’s Reimiro was called a rei mata puku (chicken embryo [?]).
This information, much of which is very late in date, is the only data available on the reimiro. Despite its limitations it helps to identify these objects, in the light of their great rarity, as badges of rank worn on the chest by both male and female members of the aristocracy.
Other information establishes a link between reimiro and the moon, or more accurately, its temporal significance, the lunar month. Reimiro take the shape of a crescent moon, in which the horns (or extremities?) are decorated with varied sculptures, usually symmetrical. These sculptures are most frequently very elongated human heads, in an arched form which is also lunar. The heads are characterised by their furrowed brows, aquiline noses, and chins which may or may not have a goatee beard. Then there are others with enigmatic sculptures: ‘Shells’ for some, tails of cetacean for others (M. & C. Orliac, 2008), then fish, cockerels, and rounded human heads. The eyes of all of these various representations are frequently inlaid with bone and obsidian. Reimiro range in length from 24 cm to 91 cm and in height from 12 to 46cm. From the smallest to the largest, the regular size distribution does not allow us to categorise specimens in the manner which is possible for rapa and ao. Moreover the scale of reimiro does not seem to be related to the character of the figures that adorn them.
Regardless of their size, reimiro all display the same highly elaborate morphology, being curved both longitudinally and transversely. One side, convex and regular, is bordered on the upper edge by a raised rim, carved with a groove; this side bears the suspension device (usually two pierced studs placed either side of the vertical median axis). The other side is concave and much more complex. A long arcuate cavity runs across the middle, with steep edges and a flat bottom, which still occasionally bears traces of a white or red colour. The surfaces between this crescent and the sides of the object are also concave.
The highly sophisticated shape of the reimiro is a superb testament to the talent of the sculptor-priests of Easter Island. For these royal pendants they mostly used makoi wood (Thespesia populnea), but also toromiro (Sophora toromiro) or even driftwood (C. Orliac, 2010). In order to make use of the greatest possible size of the wood, the larger specimens were carved out transversely from the crown of the tree.
This beautiful reimiro displays all of the characteristics listed above in their most classic form. Its scale and proportions place it at the heart of the very small corpus of objects of this type. Finally, the softening of the reliefs and the deep wear to the outer edge of the perforated studs, where the suspension cord would have been threaded, testifies to the long use of this insignia, reserved for the highest aristocracy of Easter Island.
Congrégation des Sacrés-cœurs de Jésus et de Marie.
Routledge Katherine, 1920, page 268.
Métraux Alfred, 1940, page 231.
Orliac Orliac M. et C. 2008, Trésors de l’île de Pâques, p.XXX )
Orliac C., 2010, Botanical identification of 200 Easter Island Wood Carvings, Gotland University Press, 11, p. 125-139
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