Maori Heru and Hairstyles: A Cultural Journey

The Maori culture of New Zealand is richly adorned with traditions and artifacts that speak to the depth of its heritage. Among these cultural treasures, the Maori Heru, a traditional ornamental comb, takes center stage. In this blog post, we explore the significance and evolution of the Maori Heru, as well as the hairstyles that have played a pivotal role in Maori identity throughout history.

maori heru comb

The Maori Heru: A Symbol of Rank and Beauty:
The Heru, meticulously carved from wood, whale bone, or individual comb 'teeth' bound together, served as more than a mere functional hair accessory. It was a visual cue to the rank of the wearer within the community. Worn predominantly by men, the Heru played a vital role in fastening long hair into topknots, showcasing not only practicality but also a deep cultural significance.

The Putiki Style and Ornamental Variations:
Maori hairstyles, often gathered in the putiki style, were adorned with large combs of peculiar shapes, crafted from materials ranging from the thin portion of a sperm whale's jaw to the hard, resinous heart of the kahikatea pine. The intricate patterns, such as tapuwae kotuku, showcased the craftsmanship of binding hard wood pieces together with fine flax lashings. Women, too, embellished their heads with delicate ornaments, including snowy down-like epidermis from the Astelia or Celmisia leaf.

Cultural Changes and Adaptations:
With the impact of colonization, significant changes occurred in Maori hairstyles and adornments. Men adopted shorter hairstyles, and feathers from introduced birds replaced those of indigenous species. The use of carved bone combs transitioned to being adopted by women, showcasing the adaptability of Maori traditions in the face of external influences.

Heru: Beyond Functionality:
The Heru transcends its functional purpose, becoming a symbol of mana and prestige. As a traditional Maori hair ornament, it is not only a tangible expression of cultural identity but also a reflection of the wearer's status and connection to heritage. Today, Heru continues to be carved from various types of wood or bone, proudly worn by both men and women.

huia feather heru comb maori

Feathers and Headdresses:
The Maori relationship with feathers extends beyond combs. The red streamer-like tail feathers of the amokura, the precious huia feathers, and the use of white dorsal plumes from the breeding kōtuku all played significant roles in headdresses, adding layers of meaning to personal adornment.

The Maori Heru and hairstyles encapsulate a profound journey of cultural expression, adaptation, and resilience. From traditional topknots adorned with elegant combs to the symbolic significance of feathers in headdresses, each element tells a story of identity and connection to the land. As these traditions persist and evolve, the Maori people continue to weave their heritage into the fabric of the present, ensuring that the elegance of the Heru and the tales within each hairstyle endure for generations to come.