4755

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Unusual Massim Carved, Wooden Lime Spatula Shaped as a Hornbill

Massim People, Tobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea
early 20th century

length: 38.3cm

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Provenance

UK art market

This light-weight, dark-wood spatula, once used to extract lime from a bone or bamboo lime container, has a handle finial that is finely carved as a stylised hornbill bird, incised with scrolls. The hornbill’s casque atop its beak is visible at the very top of the spatula. Its tail feathers cascade down its side.

The spatula is long and thin and finishes with a flattened spoon end. It has a glossy patina.

The spatula is from the Trobriand Islands (now known as the Kiriwina Islands), located to the east of Papua New Guinea. Trobriand lime spatulas are among the most beautiful and elegant sculptural carvings in Melanesia.

Lime was used in the preparation of betel which was chewed as a mild narcotic, and was an integral part of life in the Massim area. The spatulas were used to remove powdered lime from the lime container. The lime was carried to the mouth and taken from the end of the spatula. The lime, when mixed with chewed betel in the mouth, produced a mild euphoria.

The example here is unusual for its depiction of a hornbill. This example was acquired in the UK and most probably came to the UK during the colonial era.

References

Kaeppler, A. L., C. Kaufmann & D. Newton, Oceanic Art, Abrams, 1997.
Meyer, A. J. P., Oceanic Art, Könemann, 1995.
Peltier, P. & F. Morin, Shadows of New Guinea: Art from the Great Island of Oceania in the Barbier-Mueller Collections, Somogy, 2007.
Wardwell, A., Island Ancestors: Oceanic Art from the Masco Collection, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1994.

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