This container is made of a bamboo cylinder with a wooden top carved as a rooster balanced on a crocodile’s head and secured by woven rattan, and with a central woven rattan grip. It was used in the Middle Sepik River Region by the Iatmul People to hold lime, usually obtained by crushing burned seashells, that was used as part of the betel nut quid. Betel nut, a mild social narcotic, was chewed habitually, but also played an important role in many ceremonies. The carved rooster is decorated with natural ochres. See Bounoure (1992, p. 143), Peltier & Morin (2007, p. 104), Herreman (2009, p. 60), Meyer (1995, p. 231) and Linton & Wingert (1972, p. 114) for examples of related Sepik River Region lime containers.
The item was collected in the first half of the twentieth century by Francis de Sales McHugh, who was born in Queensland, Australia in 1896, and who worked in New Guinea as a foreman of works for the Queensland Department of Posts and Telegraphs building regional post offices. It was during this time that he collected this item. The lime container passed to his daughter who now lives in the UK, and in whose possession it had remained since.
See a related example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Bounoure, V., Vision d’Oceanie, Musée Dapper, 1992.
Herreman, F. (ed.), Oceanie: Tekens van Riten, Symbolen van Gezag, Wereldmuseum/Mercatorfonds, 2009.
Linton, R. & P. S. Wingert, Arts of the South Seas, The Museum of Modern Art, 1972.
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.