Merahi Metua no Tehamana (Tehamana Has Many Parents)
oil on canvas
The Art Institute of Chicago,
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Deering McCormick
Gauguin took the young girl Tehamana as his mistress, or vahine, during his first trip to Tahiti. He described his confusion on meeting two women both claiming to be Tehamana's mother. He later learned of the Tahitian custom of having foster parents in addition to birth parents — a system that created a network of supportive relationships.
The composition blends imagery from diverse sources. The influence of Christianity in Tahiti is suggested by the modest European smock, urged on Tahitian women by missionaries; the Tahitian goddess Hina appears in the middle register, in a pose Gauguin modeled on Indian images of Hindu deities; and the undecipherable inscription along the top imitates Rongorongo writing found on Easter Island tablets, but not present in Tahiti.