Old artifacts of Samoa – Part 2
The Selu lā‘au and ili lā‘au, wood combs and wood fans, were among the crafts on display at an event held at the Samoa Culture and Arts Centre in Malifa last week.
The Community Workshop held on Thursday 30th November 2023, “Mapping the Samoa Collection: A view of Samoa Measina collections at Te Papa Tongarewa/Museum of New Zealand,” provided an opportunity for the Tiapapata Art Centre to showcase some of the cultural products it has been researching and re-creating. Te Papa’s online portal is one of many museum websites that feature artifacts from Samoa and these objects provide inspiration to the artisans currently working at Tiapapata.
The combs and fans are cut from local hardwoods and are decorated with an array of intricate patterns and motifs. Exactly what equipment was used to make these products around the end of the 19th century remains uncertain but what is known is the high level of craftsmanship achieved by Samoan artisans. Combs held in museum collections around the world can be as thin as 2mm and have as many as sixty patterns cut out of the wood such as in this comb that is held at Te Papa Museum. Surprisingly, this comb measures just over 30cm (1 foot).
There are much fewer wood fans to be seen in online museum portals which suggests there may have been fewer made and collected by Europeans. But the fans that can be seen contain similarly intricate patterns. In some fans, so many patterns have been cut out of the blade that they are not a very practical design, suggesting instead that these objects were decorative, symbolic of status perhaps.
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