Sumba Combs

The spectacular high combs worn by young women, brides and adolescent girls in East Sumba, Indonesia, form part of their rich traditional costume for festivals, ceremonies and weddings. These treasured objects, belonging to the Island’s aristocratic families, have passed down the generations since at least the early 19th century.

The combs are known as hai kara jangga and are placed upstanding over the brow or high on the head, crown-like and held in place by ribbons or a band. They are hand carved from mottled tortoiseshell (from both thick and thin plates) or occasionally from buffalo horn. Once carved and polished, they are deeply curved in the horizontal plane almost to a semi-circle – there is no curvature in the vertical plane. The combs all follow a basic format: an upper pierced heading separated from the teeth by a band of solid tortoiseshell displaying engraved linear geometric decoration.

The carved decorative headings, which vary from comb to comb, are designed symmetrically on either side of the central motif, each with various images in silhouette of stylised animals, birds, fish, trees and sometimes the human figure. They have recognisable symbolic meaning within the mythology of the Island’s culture – for instance, the horse represents loyalty, the chicken wealth. The skull trees (andung trees), featured as the central motif on many examples, were once used to display captured heads from hostile encounters and inter-village warfare. The motifs depicted on the combs echo those of the Ikat woven textiles of the region or on some of their standing stone monuments.


For more scholarly research, please examine

The Comb: Its History and Development
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The Creative Museum: From Art Nouveau to Art Deco

Part two of The Creative Museum’s presentation, “From Art Nouveau to Art Deco,” will be appearing on October 22. I am looking forward to it because their scholarship is immaculate.

Here are a few of my favorite Art Deco combs from their collection. They are all by Auguste Bonaz. I think it is interesting to see how his designs developed from 1910 – 1925, especially the two combs in the same shape. In 1910, he did red and black. In 1920, the same shaped comb displays a completely different idea.






For more history and insight, you’ll have to wait for The Creative Museum’s presentation. :-)


For more scholarly research, please examine the other exhibitions at The Creative Museum.

The Riches of the French Empire

Facing Me, Facing You

EN TÊTE À TÊTE, dedicated to headdresses, the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Angoulême

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Truus Daalder: Comb from Tanimbar, Maluku Province of Indonesia

In my book Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment (Ethnic Art Press and Macmillan, 2009), I described and illustrated (p. 170) a very rare comb from Tanimbar, situated in the east of Indonesia, in the southern Moluccas (Maluku). I was unable to show there the only drawing of a person actually wearing the comb, which together with another drawing and further material was found for me by a very helpful Dutch librarian of the World Museum in Rotterdam, who examined a number of rare and old books for the purpose.

One aim of this article is now to publish the two drawings mentioned, together with some information contained in the text of these books.

Not many good and genuine examples of this type of comb seem to exist. Perhaps they were always rare, for they were only to be worn by ‘heroes’ (waduwan) according to a description in a Dutch book by J.G.F. Riedel, published in 1886 by Nijhoff in The Hague, De sluik- en kroesharige rassen tusschen Selebes en Papua, of which the title translates as “The Straight- and Curly-haired Races between Celebes and Papua.” The illustration on page 309 of Riedel’s book (shown below, and also reproduced in Suzanne Greub’s Expressions of Belief, 1988) provides a drawing of several gold ornaments from the region, a bamboo comb worn by young men (number 10), and an example of our type of comb (number 12), here called suar taran wulu. It shows some of the ornamentation that was in this case attached to the comb. The comb was worn together with a neck ornament (number 11) called wangap. Number 13 shows a goats’ hair ornament also worn by the waduwan, tied around the leg below the knee.

The other illustration found, of an actual wearer of the comb in full regalia, and shown below, was discovered in a German book published in Berlin in 1896 by A. Jacobsen, “Reise in die Inselwelt des Banda-Meeres,” which can be translated as “Travel in the Island World of the Banda Sea.”

This shows a warrior decked out for fighting. The tines of the comb were inserted horizontally into the hair at the back. The volume of the wearer’s hair was enlarged by artificial padding and by adding more actual human hair. The warrior’s hair may also have been strengthened by chalk (Riedel, p. 292). The comb was then augmented with further embellishment by the use of a prow-shaped insertion of light wood decorated with feathers or flags. Text under the drawing explains that the hair-do as shown in the drawing is ‘too low’.

Jacobsen had personally watched a dance during which the comb was worn. The drawing describes the warrior as a resident of ‘Timor-laut’. Rita Wassing-Visser, from the Nusantara Museum in Delft, states in Sieraden en Lichaamsversiering uit Indonesië (1984) that the comb is called suar sair or flag comb (p. 129), while Suzanne Greub, in Expressions of Belief, featuring masterpieces in the Rotterdam Museum, gives the name yole to a similar comb collected in the Babar Islands, which lie between Timor and the Moluccas (p. 234). Greub reproduces the illustration from Riedel, but appears to be unaware of the drawing from the book by Jacobsen.

Obviously the comb was used in a number of island groups, under different names and with different kinds of decoration. Wassing-Visser calls the accompanying necklace of large cowrie shells wangpar, and states that a second necklace often worn with the comb, indar-lele, was usually made from swordfish vertebrae or sawn buffalo bones.

Jacobsen (p. 217) explains that the carved inlay on the comb consists of ivory, and this is stated about a number of examples. The Moluccas certainly imported ivory and attached great value to it, but our example and several others in illustrations appear to have used bone for the inlaid and carved sections.

Not a single photograph seems to exist showing the comb as worn. Several similar combs in the collections of the World Museum are described as having been damaged or gnawed by rodents, consistent with the combs having come from graves. This suggests that in many cases they may have been buried with their owner.

Our example was collected by Dutch people in the 1970s, in the village of Alusikarwain in Tanimbar Selatan, or South Tanimbar, and clearly dates from the nineteenth century. It was said to have been used in dance ceremonies called Tabar Lla or Ngabar Lla. It is a pity that the nineteenth century travellers either had no camera or that their photographed material did not survive tropical conditions, and apparently later visitors no longer saw the combs used in dances.



Greub, Suzanne (ed.) 1988. Expressions of Belief: Masterpieces of African, Oceanic and Indonesian Art from the Museum voor Volkenkunde, Rotterdam. New York: Rizzoli International.

Jacobsen, A. 1896. Reise in die Inselwelt des Banda-Meeres. Berlin.

Riedel, J.G.F. 1886. De sluik- en kroesharige rassen tusschen Selebes en Papua. The Hague: Nijhoff.

Wassing-Visser, Rita. 1984. Sieraden en Lichaamsversiering uit Indonesië. Delft: Volkenkundig Museum Nusantara.


Please read an interview with Truus Daalder on the blog, Pierre Nachbaur Art. Ms. Daalder is the author of

Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment
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Hair Ornaments during China’s Warring States Period

Yesterday, I saw a movie, “The Warring States.” It centers around a conflict between two generals who fight against each other for the Wei and Qi states. The other states in this period (475 to 221 BC) were Han, Zhao, Qin, Chu, and Yan. The Qin state won, and the Qin Dynasty lasted from 221 BC to 206 BC.

My jaw was on the floor from the hair ornaments for both men and women. I wanted to know if the movie’s spectacular costumes matched the historical record, so I did some research.

The jade pendant this actress is wearing on her hair (left) matches dragons (right), which were found in the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng. He died c. 433 BC. Zeng was a minor state, subordinate to Chu. The jade is bluish yellow, decorated with an even-grain pattern. Fine polish is indicative of how jade was worn in the Warring States Period.

The King of the Qi in the movie wears the headdress of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi, who built the Great Wall and founded the Qin Dynasty. Han emperors also wore it, so that’s not accurate, but it’s ok. What a headdress!

This dragon-shaped piece of jade jewelry was excavated from a Warring States tomb in Lu’an, formerly the State of Lu.

Perhaps it was the model for this phenomenal top-knot jade wedding headdress worn by actress Jing Tian.

In the Warring States Period, many women wore scorpion-tail shaped hairstyles. The movie has some of the most magnificent examples I have ever seen. I have put my favorite one next to a picture in a book on Chinese costume.

I would say the movie is loosely based on history, including “The Art Of War,” by Sun Tzu. However, as a hair-ornament and costume show, it is easy to just sit back, eat popcorn, and imagine yourselves wearing all these things. :-)


For more scholarly research, please examine

The Warring States

Chinese Clothing (Introductions to Chinese Culture)

Chinese Art of the Warring States Period: Change and Continuity, 480-222 B.C.
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Gina Hellweger: Tribal Art from Sumatra and the Philippines

Would you share a table with me?

I will show you some tribal combs and art I’ve collected from Sumatra (the big silver comb in the center) and the Philippines.

This wooden comb decorated with wild boar siblings comes from the Philippine island of Palawan.

In Northern Luzon, the Cordilleran language group has several dialects. One of them is spoken in the Ifugao province. This tortoiseshell and gold comb comes from there.

Also from Ifugao are this ceremonial dipper made out of medium-heavy wood, showing a standing woman figure

…and an early, traditional eating spoon. It is finely carved and features a kneeling Bulul, or rice-god figure

These are the Banaue Rice Terraces of Ifugao. They are 2000 years old and were carved into the mountains.

These reddish amber ear plugs are Burmese. They were made by people who speak the Hkakhu dialect of Jingpho, which is mainly spoken in Kachin State, Burma, and Yunnan Province, China.

From the Northern Luzon Mountain Province’s capital city of Bontoc come these brass earrings.

The Ilongot people of Northern Luzon made mother-of-pearl earrings. They have a tradition of headhunting.

This Ilongot woman’s earring portrays joined circles of mother-of-pearl shell with a beaded decoration.

A headhunter’s armlet, called “tankil,” is made from two tusks and a wooden figure. When a young man has reached the age of initiation, he must go alone into the mountain to hunt for a wild pig, whose tusk will be used to make the armlet. Only after that can the young man participate in a headhunting expedition. The tankil is worn during ritual ceremonies throughout Northern Luzon, Philippines


For more scholarly research, please examine

Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment
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Alexander de Paris: Nouvelle Collection 2012

Alexander de Paris has a web store for middle-market women, ie those who cannot jet to New York or Paris, walk into a shop, and buy a one-of-a-kind piece for $4000.

The company’s Autumn/Winter 2012 collection is out. Beehive hair styles are in to support innovative and experimental headbands. Designers are playing with the headband’s geometric shape to make this year’s main idea, Avant Garde.

Here are some examples of headbands you can use to decorate your beehive bun. If you have shorter hair, you can always buy a ponytail wig and put that up. (ooo, does the wig really have to match your hair color, or can you get creative? :-)

Avant Garde headbands have not gone down-market yet. I have seen the big flower on the side of a narrow headband everywhere, but not headbands whose shapes are rolled, separated, or swirled.

Then of course, each collection has its masterpiece. The knockout headband of the web store’s Nouvelle Collection 2012 is

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The Miss World Crown

Congratulations, Miss China. The crown is made of diamonds, sapphires, and turquoise stones on a gold base. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the jewels are real. Are beauty pageants about real beauty? Are their crowns about real jewels? Comments welcome.

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Gina Hellweger: Ethiopian Judaeo-Christian Art for Sale

Ethiopia enjoys a well-developed tradition in iconography, manuscript illumination, calligraphy, book art, metal work, woodcarving and many other art forms. Ethiopia althrough surrounded by Muslim countries has a thriving Orthodox Church and a proud Judaeo-Christian history, tracing back to the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon.

The original Ark of the Covenant, a gilded wooden box containing the stone tablets of the law ( 10 commandments ) received by Moses from God on the Mount Sinai, is thought to reside in a church in Axum ( ancient former capital city ) A replica of these tablets ( Tabot ) is placed in the Holy of Holies at the heart of each Ethiopian Orthodox church.

There are carved wooden crosses, mini-towers, book-like pendants, complex fold out pieces open out with little doors on string hinges, revealing miniature icons inside, painted icons adorn metal crosse as well as wooden diptychs and triptychs, others are painted on goatskin.

If you are interested in purchasing one or more of these pieces or more information contact OFER DANIELI or GINA HELLWEGER on Facebook. Or, you can contact BarbaraAnne through this blog, and she will she will get the information to us. The prices are affordable. If you mention our blog, you get a 5% discount and free shipping.


For more scholarly research, please examine these books, which have been added to our Resource Library

Ethiopian Art: The Walters Art Museum

The Indigenous and the Foreign in Christian Ethiopian Art: On Portuguese-Ethiopian Contacts in the 16th-17th Centuries

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Mellerio dits Meller

Mellerio dits Meller is the oldest family-owned jewelry company in Europe, spanning 14 generations. In 1515, the first Mr. Mellerio left Italy for Paris because he heard there was opportunity there. His family started the company in 1613.

As Jean-Baptiste Mellerio was vending his wares in front of the Château de Versailles, he attracted the attention of Marie-Antoinette. She became a regular patron in 1777. He created this cameo bracelet for her, which expressed Versailles’ court intrigue, as some cameos face each other to converse, and some don’t. Just before Marie-Antoinette went to the guillotine, she gave the bracelet to a confidante. It survived in tact, and today is kept in a safe.

Empress Josephine also had jewelry made for her by Jean-Baptiste, such as this amethyst parure.

In 1815, the company set up shop on the Rue de la Paix, where it remains to this day.

Jean-Francois Mellerio made this diamond-and-pearl tiara, which Queen Isabel II of Spain bought for her daughter, the Infanta Isabel, Princess of Asturias, for her wedding in 1867.

During the Paris Exposition Universelle 1900, Mellerio dits Meller presented 12 pieces based on the peacock. Here is the “Paon Royal” head dress, which was made in gold and platinum with cloisonné and diamonds.

Serpents have always played a powerful role in world religions. They guarded Buddah. In Genesis, a serpent represented the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Two serpents facing each other reflected both themes in Art Nouveau jewelry. Mellerio dits Meller made this exquisite diamond and platinum diadem in 1921. Do the two snakes represent good and evil? Or, they are guarding the diamond pendant. I think the snakes play both roles, which makes this an art deco masterpiece.


For more scholarly research, please examine these books, which can be found in our Resource Library

Serpentina: Snake Jewellery from Around the World

Art Nouveau: The French Aesthetic

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Eyes Open: Tribal Combs and Masks

When light or wind passes through, the open eyes of a mask can haunt you. Ancestral spirits look back. I wanted to show some tribal combs and masks, whose open designs allow this emotional exchange to happen.

From The Creative Museum‘s African collection come these examples:

These three 20th Century hairpins with masks are ivory. They were made by the Zande people who live in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Zande also inhabit portions of South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

In Angola, the Ganguela are a small minority ethnic group made up of several tribes, each with their own language and social identity. The Lwimbi tribe is one of these. They are known for beekeeping and making pointed masks with open designs.

The Boa people live in the Northern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their art features masks with prominent, round ears, which signify alertness in a warrior. The first comb has a representational head with red eyes and round ears. However, the second comb is more symbolic. Both the head and ears are round circles, and the ears are at arms length to give balance to the piece. I don’t think a Western modern artist could have done better.

The Baule tribe is one of the Akan peoples, who inhabit Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Their religion is centered around ancestor worship and nature gods.

These two masks are from the Gina Hellweger Collection. “This mask is an Ogoni Animal Mask from Nigeria. The Ogoni people live to the east of the Niger delta. They have retained a vital varied masquerading activity that is in part deeply rooted in their own tradition and in part adopted from neighboring ethnic groups, such as the Ibibio or Ijo tribes. Masks depciting wild animals are danced on the occasion of agrarian rituals.

“This mask is an old one from the Bambara people that live in central and southern Mali.”

Last, from the Bruce Frank Art Gallery comes this antique mask from Pora Pora in the East Sepik Provence of Papua New Guinea. This is the most haunting mask I have seen yet. It is made from terra cotta, has an elongated nose, and is pierced for attachment.


For more scholarly research, please examine these books, which can be found in our Resource Library.

Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment

Hair in African Art and Culture

Powerful Headdresses: Africa and Asia
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