They were usually carried in pairs to emphasise the movements of the dancers, who spun them on their axis, and were also reportedly used during funerary rituals. Whilst other types of Rapa Nui wooden sculpture display detailed facial features, these Rapa showed just an abstract suggestion of a face.
Only around 30 authenticated Rapa are recorded, with most residing in international museums as icons of ethnographic art. There have been a number of fakes on the market in recent years and, while some substantial five-figure sums have been bid for these in regional rooms, few sales have been consummated.
But it appears that the world's most serious collectors of Oceanic art thought this example, with an old provenance, was the real deal when it was offered for sale on April 13 at the Island Auction Rooms on the Isle of Wight.
The 2ft (60cm) paddle was consigned by a local vendor whose uncle worked for P&O cruise ships in the 1920s as a Purser, during which time he travelled to the Polynesian Islands where he purchased the paddle. When he died in the 1930s, it passed to the family and has been propped against a wall ever since.
Initially estimated at £10,000, it attracted interest from Australia, Belgium, America and London and the estimate was revised to £20,000-40,000. All phone lines were booked and a number of bidders flew in for the sale. After a lengthy phone battle, it sold for £220,000 (plus 10 per cent buyer's premium) to a London collector against a Belgian underbidder.