Gabaela Ceremonial spatula

Milne Bay Province, Massim Area
Papua New Guinea

Turtleshell, shell
Early 20th century or earlier
Height: 10 ½ in. (27 cm)

Ex collection Daalder, Adelaide, Australia

Published in:
Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment, Truus Daalder, Ethnic Art Press, 2009, p. 87

Price: on request

Melanesia – Papua New Guinea
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As stated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, lime spatulas such as this one are not used to chew betel nut. Instead, they are part of a set of ceremonial valuables used in a number of rituals in the southern part of the Massim region. Together with greenstone axe blades and shell valuables, ceremonial lime spatulas decorated with red shell disks are traded following the exchange networks that crisscross the Louisiade Archipelago. Inter-island expeditions are mounted every year where women and men sail in outrigger canoes in search of wonamo jilevia lime sticks and other ceremonial currency items to fulfil their mortuary or bride wealth obligations. These type of lime spatulas are considered to be a support for the presentation of the truly valuable item, the red shell disks that are strung into it, in the same way as the carved wooden handle of an axe is a support to carry and display valuable greenstone blades throughout the Massim. The more shells on the lime spatula the more valuable the object is considered, conveying the high rank of the person who gives it away on occasion of a special ritual.