British Museum collections, £12.99
Length: 25.000 cm
Gift of Mrs H.G. Beasley
AOA Ethno 1944.Oc2.1901
Africa, Oceania, Americas
From Milne Bay Province, Papua New
Late 19th - early 20th century AD
Made by Mutuaga
In much of Papua New Guinea people chew betel nut (that is, the seed of the betel palm, Areca catechu). Chewed with powdered lime and a leaf of betel pepper, the seed has a mildly narcotic effect, and stimulates digestion. In many places, the equipment for betel chewing is beautifully carved and decorated, and this is particularly true for south-eastern Papua New Guinea.
This wooden spatula is a flat spoon for extracting the lime from a container. Lime spatulas from this area are carved and decorated in both abstract and representational form. This is one of the few carved to represent a human figure, who here is holding and beating a hand-drum.
Following detailed investigations, the researcher Harry Beran has identified this example as having been carved by a known individual. Such identifications are rare, given the traditions of ethnographic collecting, with the names of the people involved in the production of items often not recorded. This spatula appears to have been made by Mutuaga of Dagodagoisu Village, South Cape, Milne Bay Province, who lived from about 1860 to the early 1920s.
H. Beran, Mutuaga: a nineteenth-century (University of Wollongong Press, 1996)
H. Beran, Betel-chewing equipment of Eas (Princes Risborough, Shire Ethnography, 1988)