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Object: Selu la’au (wooden comb)

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Title Selu la’au (wooden comb)
Materials wood
Classification combs, hair ornaments
Dimensions Overall: 355mm (Length) x 70mm (Width)
Credit line Gift of Alexander Turnbull, 1913
Registration number FE000887

Selu la’au or selu pau as they are commonly known, are carved wooden combs made in Samoa. They were very popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and were worn in the hair for ornamental purposes.


Artisans carved them using a fretwork technique requiring the cutting of holes into the piece of thin wood to create intricate patterns. They were made from wood of a variety of tree species including pau (Manikara hoshinoi), manapau (Mammea odorata), toi (Alphitonia zizyphoides), toa (Casuarina equisetifolia) or ifilele (Intsia bijuga). These timbers were also used to carve other items like household furniture, va’a (canoe) and foe (paddles).

Acquisition History

This selu was probably made in the late 1800s. It is part of a collection of objects acquired from Alexander Turnbull in 1913.


Buck, P. Samoan Material Culture. (Honolulu: The Museum, 1930)

Kramer, A. The Samoa Islands : an outline of a monograph with particular consideration of German Samoa / translated by Theodore Verhaaren. (Auckland: Polynesian Press, 1994)

Parham, B. Plants of Samoa: a guide to their local and scientific names with authorities; with notes on their uses, domestic, traditional and economic. (Wellington: Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, 1972)

Whistler, A. Plants in Samoan culture: the ethnobotany of Samoa. (Honolulu: Isle Botanica, 2000)

Related information

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