Tribal Comb : A Pacific Island Adornment

This article looks at the various types of tribal comb from the Pacific Islands. It has images to help readers identify where a tribal hair comb comes from and what it is worth.

Some tribal hair combs are quite beautiful in their own right and are a collectible form of tribal art.

I buy tribal hair combs from the South Pacific Islands so if you have one to sell I would love to see it. If you just want to know what your tribal comb is worth please feel free to send me a Jpeg and I will give you my opinion.

Tribal Combs general information

Tribal hair combs were an important adornment for many Pacific Islanders. Generally, they are for decoration and not just for straightening hair. Many Tribal combs were also a status symbol and indicated rank or achievement. Men more often wore hair combs than women.

Throughout the Pacific Islands, tribal combs have long been an item worn with other adornments. They could beautify and adorn the hair as part of everyday wear, or signal a wearer’s social status on a special occasion. Having wonderful hair was so important to many Pacific Islanders that they used Neck Rests rather than damage their hairstyle.

The variety of tribal hair combs is almost as unlimited as the imagination of the creators. If you are having difficulty identifying where your tribal hair comb is from then please feel free to send me an image and I may be able to help.

Tribal Hair Combs by region

Samoan Tribal Combs

Samoan combs are normally distinguished by the plentiful openwork and extravagant designs.

They are usually carved from a reddish hardwood,

They were worn with the Tuinga, a human hair headdress.

Tongan hair Comb

Tongan tribal combs are often made from the midrib of coconut leaves. Numerous Midribs are bound together.

They quite often have beads interwoven within the design.

Unlike most Pacific Island combs, Tongan combs were worn by women.

Maori Tribal Hair Comb

Maori Combs are normally made from whalebone. Early precontact combs tend to be quite plain and later versions very flamboyant. It is the same with Maori Clubs but older versions are still more collectible.

In Maori culture, men wore their hair long with a top knot, and women wore their hair short. The comb Heru is the ornament, stuck in the top knot, which decorated the heads of top-ranking men. They were a symbol of mana, or status and prestige.

Some Maori tribal hair combs were made of wood but few of these survive.

Bougainville combs

Tribal Combs from Bougainville are rare. They often have a figurative element and use tightly woven orchid fiber.

They were not used as a comb but as a way of attaching feathers to the hair during ceremonial dances

Huon Gulf combs

tribal hair combs from the Huon Gulf in Papua New Guinea made from bamboo. The top third has clan designs and the bottom two-thirds are the teeth.

They are common and not very collectible.

Fly River Combs

These combs are finely carved with the representation of an ancestral head.

These figurative combs are extremely rare. They adorned important men during funeral ceremonies.

They are highly collectable

Abelam Tribal Hair Combs

Combs from the Abelam in Papua New Guinea are mainly woven bush fiber. They are often decorated with feathers and painted in ochre. Combs were an adornment during Yam mask ceremonies.

Solomon Island hair combs

Solomon island tribal combs vary depending on which island they come from. The most common variety made from black palm fronds woven together with orchid fiber. Old combs tend to be wider and more collectible.

A less common style is covered in black putty and inlaid with pearl shell.

Combs were worn by men as a signal of rank and status

Admiralty Island combs

Admiralty Island combs are bush putty over palm frond ribs.

They are often decorated with faces of crocodiles and painted red.

Saint Matthias Island Combs

Combs from Saint Matthias island in New Guinea are the largest of all Pacific Island combs.

Constructed from coconut midribs and plaited together with bush fiber. Painted in Lime charcoal and ochre in clan specific motifs

Papuan Gulf Tribal Comb

Papuan Gulf combs are normally made from hardwood and if they have faces on them are quite collectible.

Boiken Combs

Carved from the lower jaw of crocodile Boiken combs are extremely rare. They were not made for use as decoration but used in Sorcery.

Collingwood Bay Combs

Tribal combs from Collingwood Bay (Papua New Guinea) are turtle shell.

They are often pierced down one side for the attachment of shells and banana seeds.

Worn horizontally in pairs during ceremonial occasions

Massim Combs

Massim combs are bamboo and the teeth separated by woven pandanus root fibre. The top section carved with clan motifs.

Lower Sepik combs

Lower Sepik tribal combs are cassowary bone. They can be beautifully incised with designs or left plain value depends on the design.

Kaniet Island comb

Micronesian combs from Kaniet Island are a blond hardwood. Carving is often very detailed and they are extremely rare.

Torres Strait Island combs

Torres Strait combs are rare and carved from hardwood. It is possible they only came into existence after Samoan missionaries introduced them into the area.

Hairpin Adornments

Many Pacific Islanders used combs but some islanders used Adornments in their hair. Although not really combs I think these two hairpin adornments are worthy of note because they are highly collectible.

Yuat River Hair Pins

Intricately carved from hardwood. Often represent a local spirit and painted with ochres.

Many collectors view these small masterpieces as Sepik sculpture

Marquesan hairpin

Made from bone and normally with a tiki figure on the top.

Tribal Comb

All old tribal hair comb from the South Pacific Islands have some value. The value depends on the beauty rarity and condition. If you have a tribal comb and you want to know where it is from or what it is worth please feel free to send me an image.


If you enjoyed this article you may also enjoy my articles on New guinea drums Wooden headrests and south sea island war clubs

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