Head comb

Production date
Pre 1990
Papua New Guinea
East Sepik
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Object detail

Wooden head comb, with carved human figure on handle. Figure has feathers as earrings.
CH classification INDIGENOUS CULTURES Melanesian & South Sea Islander comb
Production date
Pre 1990
L 288 x W 145 mm
Media/Materials description
Comb teeth are made from a lighter plant such as bamboo or pandanus, whereas handle is made of wood. The comb teeth are joined to the handle with plant fibre and resin.
History and use
Tribal head combs are generally for decorative purposes to adorn the wearer, but also worn as a status symbol, indicating a person’s rank and achievement within a group. The size, materials used and decoration on the combs varies between regions and groups.

Body decoration, or bilas, is a significant social and cultural practice in Papua New Guinea. Bilas can take many forms: headdresses, body painting, the wearing of wigs, or wearing ornaments such as necklaces and body adornments. Bilas can display unity within a group, is used to celebrate significant events such as births, deaths, marriages and battles, and extends respect to ancestral spirits. Used in song and dance, these ornaments are worn to demonstrate their group’s status, health, fertility, wealth and strength.

Head combs have become a common form of souvenir created more and more frequently for tourist sales.

This object was collected by donor Peter Watt in 1990 and donated to the Museum of Tropical Queensland in 2012.
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