Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Lime Spatula/Currency Holder (Gabaela or 'Nga)

Date:
19th–early 20th century
Geography:
Papua New Guinea, Massim region, Milne Bay Province
Culture:
Massim region
Medium:
Turtle shell
Dimensions:
H. 11 1/4 x W. 6 1/4 x D. 1/8 in. (28.6 x 15.9 x 0.3 cm)
Classification:
Shell-Implements
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.206.1464
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
This work from the Louisiade Archipelago in the southern Massim region had a dual function. It served as a lime spatula to scoop powdered lime from a container during the chewing of betel nut, a mild stimulant. It was also a gabaela, a ceremonial wand that served to display precious shell disks used as currency, which were tied to it using the holes in the upper margin. Viewed with the blade downward, the gabaela portrays a stylized human face or figure; the curved portion represents the forehead or chest, and the extremities the arms and hands. The eyes of two stylized birds form the eyes or testes, and the blade depicts the nose, leg, or phallus. Viewed with the blade upward, the gabaela portrays a sailing canoe, its blade representing the mast and the curved portion the gunnels.
[Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1954]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1954, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1978

Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 75.

Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 73, 120.



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