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Bundle of hair

Bundle of hair

Place: Tahiti & Society Islands
Category: Tools

Tahiti and the Society Islands, l. 165 cm, Inv. Oz 113

Humphrey No. 55: ‘Hair of the Natives of the Society Isles, of a jet black, curiously plaited by the Women of those Countries, and formed into long hanks, which, rolled in form of a Turban, they wear on their heads, and much esteem, on account of the great length of time requisite in making one of them.’

The very finely plaited strings are made of black human hair, loosely and unevenly twisted into a long bundle, partly in loops. A Humphrey label, with the final digit 5 discernible on its fragment, is glued on the bundle. Humphrey’s annotation above shows that the attribution of inventory number Oz 113 to the Humphrey number 55 must be correct.

There is a comparable bundle of human hair in the Berne Collection, designated as an ornamental element of a dance costume (cf. Kaeppler 1978b: 47). The question remains open as to whether or not the bundle of human hair in Göttingen served the same purpose.

On the occasion of the dance feasts, heiva, the female dancers of the arioi alliance sometimes wore a turban-like ‘head-dress’, tamou, consisting of a web of great quantities of human hair and wound round the head (Forster 1989, I: 332).

Banks (1896: 132) acquired several tamou which were artistically wound several times round the head without being tied, the strands with an overall length of more than an English mile. This hair ornament was often supplemented by feathers or white flowers (e.g. Morinda citrifolia, cf. Söderström 1939: 33). In addition, Banks also mentioned festive occasions where men wore arrangements made of hair, rather like a ‘wig’, on the back of the head.

Apart from this function as a ‘head-dress’ or ‘wig’, finely plaited strings made of human hair were also used as the material for making decorations for bows and quivers, as well as being used for suspending ear ornaments. They were painstakingly made for this purpose by the women and kept in reserve, and were made either from their own hair, or that of deceased relatives or friends (cf. Bunzendahl 1935: 99, 152, 155). Gundolf Krüger


Banks, Joseph, Journal of the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Banks During Captain Cook’s First Voyage in H.M.S. Endeavour in 1768-71 to Terra del Fuego. Otahite, New Zealand, Australia, the Dutch East Indies etc., by Sir Joseph D Hooker, London, 1896.

Bunzendahl, Otto, Tahiti und Europa: Entdeckungsgeschichte der Gesellschaftsinseln, Studien zur Völkerkunde, Leipzig, 1935, vol. 8.

Forster, Georg, Reise um die Welt, 2 Teile, in Georg Steiner (ed.), Georg Forsters Werke (2 und 32 und 3), Sämtliche Schriften, Tagebücher, Briefe, herausgegeben von der Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR, Akademie-Verlag, Berlin, [1777] 1989.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, Cook Voyage Artifacts in Leningrad, Berne and Florence Museums, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978b.

Söderström, Jan, A. Sparrman’s Ethnographical Collection from James Cook’s 2nd Expedition (1772-75), New Series, Publication no. 6, The Ethnographical Museum of Sweden, Stockholm, 1939.

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