Marquesas Island stilt step are one of the few pieces of Polynesian Art that are figurative and not beyond the normal collector adding to their oceanic art collection.
The following is a partial extract from Polynesian Art at Auction 1965 – 1980 by Charles W. Mack, which I hope you will find informative.
“The sport of stilt sparring was popular in a number of Polynesian Island groups. The Marquesans were particularly fond of this sport and developed two-piece stilts, each of which comprised a round pole about 6 feet long and 2 inches in Diameter attached, a third way to from bottom, to an inverted L-shaped step, tapuva’e, traditionally consisting of a standing tiki figure supporting a foot platform. The area behind the figure is pierced so as to allow attachment of the step via cordage to the pole.
Linton (1923 p 387) notes their use: “The antagonists face one and other and balancing on one stilt, extend the other stilt and make a quick swinging blow at the bottom of the enemies stilt, recovering instantly. The sport continues until one or other falls.” Considerable numbers of these very well made silt steps exist. The steps are generally of very high quality. The steps are made from hard wood and dyed black in a similar manner to u’u clubs.
Those shown on these 2 plates are typical of traditional form, in which the stance of tiki is that of a standing figure with hands to abdomen. Minor variations on this theme include secondary figures or heads under the feet of the main figure. The stilt step shown on plate 73 #4 is unusual in that the arms of the main figure are upraised supporting the step platform. These modifications are likely based on geographical rather than temporal effects.
Common to this traditional form is the parallel geometric incising which covers nearly all of the finished surface, excluding the head. The area behind and below the Tiki is purposely left rough to receive the attachment cordage. Two of the figures illustrated here differ in having geometric incising over the lower area as well, which suggests that these examples were not intended for attachment to stilts and hence not for utilitarian purposes.
Towards the end of the 19th Century, stilt steps were made in quantity for the tourist trade. These trade examples are clumsy in comparison, frequently incorporating non-traditional ornamentation and usually not dyed black. By this time the Marquesans, though still avid stilters, had abandoned the traditional tiki-supported step, replacing it with a simpler step devoid of figural carving.”
A traditional Marquesas island stilt step should be dyed black.
The area behind the tiki figure should be pierced for attachment to a pole.
The back of a marquesas island Stilt Step should be concave to fit to a pole.
The area below the Tiki figure should be without design and rough to allow it to be attached to the pole.
If the marquesas Island stilt step is not of very high quality it is probably a later tourist piece.
Marquesas Island stilt steps have in my opinion been undervalued as a form of polynesian art for years. With so many Polynesian art pieces being made for sale a Marquesan stilt step is a genuine Polynesian figure at a comparatively cheap price.
Price dealers were asking in Paris in 2011 was between 6000 and 12000 euro which is still cheap for polynesian art.
Marquesas Stilt Step at Brooklyn Museum