Ebay: Whale Bone Maori Heru Comb

According to our author-scholar Kajetan Fiedorowicz, the best Maori comb ever offered on Ebay sold on Oct. 9, 2011, for $2,576.00. It was a 17th-Century whale-bone Heru comb. The dealer listed it as “Old African? Large “oxbone” comb; elegant!” with a starting price of $9.95.

In Maori culture, men wore their hair long with a top knot, and women wore their hair short. A 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. Many of the combs had faces, which were decorated with paua-shell eyes. (Search Patoromu Tamatea on the blog.)

In 1200, Rua-tupu, the second son of Chief Uenuku, wore a Heru without permission. These combs could only be worn by the elder sons. His father belittled him. To get revenge, Rua-tupu took children of tribal noblemen into his canoe, traveled far into the ocean, and sank the boat. It is an incident in Maori history called “Te huri-pure-i-ata.” His older brother, Kahutia-te-rangi survived with the help of a whale, and his name changed to Paikea, or whale rider. The myth says Paikea had the help of the goddess Moa-kura-manu.

What I think this comb depicts is Kahutia-te-rangi (the small carving on the left) riding the whale. Think of the age, look at the condition, marvel at the orange patina on the whale bone. Absorb the simplicity of design, which expresses the profound mythology of Maori culture. The comb is a revelation. Kajetan hoped it went to a museum where it belongs. We will never know.

However, we have the picture. Our community will recognize this comb’s significance, history, and have yet another example that design reaches its greatest heights in simple forms.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Te Ika a Maui: Or, New Zealand and Its Inhabitants. Illustrating the Orgin, Manners, Customs, Mythology, Religion … of the Maori and Polynesian … Productions, and Climate of the Country

3 thoughts on “Ebay: Whale Bone Maori Heru Comb

  1. robert belcher

    I will have to do some research on this story/myth the word Heru in ancient Egypt is the title of the ruler. Heru is the original native African name while Horus is the Greek adaptation. This type of research is called diffusionism and gets anthropologist in trouble with the mainstream. The natives of Hawaii also claim to be descended from Egyptian mariners. I will not elaborate here until I locate some references. I will end by saying to any detractors. The rest of the world did not rest quietly for Europeans to discover them. I will add one more point here Heru and Hero are etiologically connected. The Greek word came from the Egyptian name Heru or Horus. Herukahuti is the name of the avenger form of the deity.
    Herukahuti became the Greek Hercules many of his labors are taken from the North African original.
    Thanks for this post I have a new project for my students this summer as a result.

  2. BarbaraAnne Post author

    Thank you for your thoughts, Robert. We are honored to have you as an author.

    As I was first researching the origin of Heru for the great comb by Patoromu Tamatea, his great-granddaughter wrote in. All of us just about died. But I think I mixed up the Egyptian and Maori Heru traditions. I actually am not sure of the answer, so I will be very interested to hear what you and your students come up with in your research.

    When you say, “The rest of the world did not rest quietly for Europeans to discover them,” I cannot tell you how strongly I agree with you. We have done posts on the Empire of Mali, Chinese gold jewelry, the Hemba people of the Congo, and many posts about Edo Japan before the trade routes opened to Europe.

    I think you’ll love this Windows Media Player short film from Kajetan Fiedorowicz. He shows his Tamatea and some Peruvian 10th-Century combs. The Creative Museum also has an extraordinary collection of over 2500 pieces, all worlds, all times.


  3. simon lee

    After spending many hours researching the history behind a few tribal art pieces I own, I came to what I had always thought to be a Polynesian or Maori comb. I have not managed to find anything quite the same, so would love to pick your brains as your blog looked like you should be able to help. I would also love to know what Roberts findings were, as an amateur historian/archaeologist who’s very interested in alternative history.
    Simon Lee


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