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The Coming of the Maori

Hair Ornaments

Hair Ornaments

The Maori followed the Polynesian custom of the men wearing their hair long and tying it in a large topknot. Feathers were stuck into the topknot by their quills, the tail feathers of the huia, black with white tips, being regarded as the most valuable. Feathers of the albatross (toroa), longtailed cuckoo (koekoea), and heron (kotuku) were also valued.

Combs (heru) were also stuck in the hair for decoration. Small combs (heru mapara) were made of separate wooden teeth lashed together with flax fibre (Fig. 79a).A more valuable comb was made of whalebone (heru iwi) in one piece with a small human head carved on one side (Fig. 79b).Like other valuable ornaments, the whalebone comb was handed on in succession and a tradition states that the well-known ancestor, Ruatapu, was severely reprimanded by his father for wearing the family whalebone comb which was reserved for his elder brother. A detailed Rarotongan version of the Ruatapu story does not mention any whalebone comb and it is not present in central Polynesia where the story was laid. The form is peculiar to New Zealand and as it was not present in the Chatham Islands, it was probably a late development in New page 285Zealand. Though the Maori story of its presence in the Hawaiki of Ruatapu is an interpolation, the story shows the great value attached to whalebone combs as family heirlooms.

Fig. 79. Combs.a, wooden, after Hamilton (46, pl. 52); b, whalebone (Oldman coll., no. 39).

Fig. 79. Combs.
a, wooden, after Hamilton (46, pl. 52); b, whalebone (Oldman coll., no. 39).