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Lime Spatula

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RTCFA No. OC 0054
Lime Spatula
Artist: Attributed to Mutuaga Birth: 1860 Death: 1920
Wood and lime pigment, 13.5 x 1.7 x 1.1 in. (34.2 x 4.4 x 2.7 cm).

Region: Melanesia
Group / Tribe: Trobriand/Massim

Description: What sets this piece apart is that it is attributed to the famed Massim master carver, Mutuaga who lived from 1860 to 1920. He was especially known for carving lime spatulas. His unique carving style is recognizable by its distinctive rendition of the human figure and the elegance and precision of its surface ornamentation. Lime spatulas were an important part of the betel chewing tradition of the peoples of the Trobriand Islands. Betel is a mild stimulant which reduces hunger pangs, produces feelings of well-being, and increases energy for work. The alkaloids in the areca seed are released when combined with lime. The function of the lime spatula in this ritual of betel chewing is to carry the lime from its container to the mouth where it releases the nicotine-like properties of the areca seed and betel leaf.

Provenance: Purchased from Taylor Dale Gallery in May 2002. Ex. Brisbane, Australia antique dealers (Lynley Jenkins and Cecily Critchley of Chantilly Antiques, European dealers). Collected by Australian missionaries based on Thursday Island in the Torres Straits in the late 19th century.