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
Firth, R. Art and Life in New Guinea. London and New York: The Studio Ltd., 1936.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 75.
Newton, Douglas. Massim: Art of the Massim Area, New Guinea. New York: Museum of Primitive Art, 1975, Pg. 5.
Beran, Harry. Betel-Chewing Equipment of East New Guinea. Princes Risborough: Shire Publications, 1988, p. 44-45, 48-49, no. 56.
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.