Patoromu Tamatea was of the Ngati Tamateautahi, a sub-tribe of Ngati Pikia. He carved canoes. When that work ceased in 1864, he was involved in settling a dispute over pigs. In later life, he started carving wood items, including combs, for British Captain Gilbert Mair. Many of his carved figures are now in the Auckland Museum and in the Museum of New Zealand.

“Heru” is the Maori word for ‘comb.’  “Heru paraoa” means whalebone comb. In Maori culture (which has strongly informed developing NZ culture) a person’s head is “tapu,” or sacred, prohibited, restricted, under protection. The higher the rank of the person, the more tapu their head. Therefore, anything that came in contact with the head (like combs) was also tapu, and had to be treated with great care.

One of Tamatea’s combs just sold on ebay for $1825. I think if this went at Sothebys, someone would have paid over $10,000 for it.

I have rarely seen anything with this indelible level of drama, passion, boldness, inspiration, and courage. This is an unqualified masterpiece, expressing the soul of a tribal god. It was a privilege to see it. Made of bone, c. 1870, the inlay is native paua shell. The face exists on both sides of the comb. I also found another comb by this same artist, as well as a link to the wooden carving of the Madonna and Child, both of which are housed in the Museum of New Zealand. Mr. Tamatea died in 1890.


5 thoughts on “PATOROMU TAMATEA

  1. lily

    hi there this hair comb is awesome i am proud to be the great great grand daughter of patoromu whakatohea

    1. Robert Watene

      Hi my name is Robert Watene and I am the greatgreatgreat grandson of Te Watene who is the son of Patoromu. Are we able to link our whakapapa please.

  2. BarbaraAnne Post author

    WHAT? Oh my Goodness. It is an honor to meet you! I know who bought this. I will write to him right away, so he might make your acquaintance, as well. This ivory comb is one of the greatest combs I have ever seen in all my years of collecting. Your great great grandfather was an exquisite artist. It is a pleasure to have you on the blog. Cead Mile Failte, a thousand welcomes! Did I get the spelling of his name wrong? Do you have any other pictures of his work or of him?


    I´ve been interested for this culture since I was a kid that I used to do tothems with the pens in class…
    nothing to do ,… but I would like to get to know a bit more since there is not much information outhere.
    Most interested about the symbols, got to do a project and would like to use the Tongue, since a couple of years ago that I went through a change time I use to take it out really often. later on find ot that is a way to take out the bad spirits … when u could help it would be great
    big Hug


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