Selu la’au (wooden comb) from Sämoa

Selu la’au (wooden comb) from Sämoa

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

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
Thinking Woman, 1890-1910, by Thomas Andrew. Te Papa (O.001021)

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



  1. Hi, the woman in the picture is my great grandma Leata Iese. I realise that it said she was unidentified.

    Gabriella Tavao

    1. Thank you Gabriella for your comment and sharing this information with us. I have sent you an e-mail.

      Sean Mallon
      Senior Curator, Pacific Cultures

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