Selu la’au (wooden comb) from Sämoa

To celebrate le vaiaso o le gagana Sämoa (Samoan language week) the Pacific Cultures curators are highlighting stories related to cultural treasures from Sämoa.

Selu la’au (wooden comb); FE000887; Gift of Alexander Turnbull, 1913; Te Papa

Selu la’au (wooden comb); FE000887; Gift of Alexander Turnbull, 1913; Te Papa

Selu la’au or selu pau as it is commonly known, were ornamental carved wooden combs made from the late 1800s using metal tools. A variety of wood was used; pau or manapau (Mammea odorata), toi (Alphitonia zizyphoides), toa (Casuarina equisetifolia) or ifilele (Intsia bijuga). These wood species were also used to carve household furniture, va’a (canoe) and foe (paddles).

To carve the selu la’au designs, a fretwork technique was used which required cutting holes into the piece of thin wood to create intricate patterns. Selu la’au were placed in the hair for ornamental purposes.   

Portrait of a Samoan woman; O.001021; Te Papa

Portrait of a Samoan woman; O.001021; Te Papa

This selu dates from the 1800s and was gifted to the museum by Alexander Turnbull in 1913.

 

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