Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Betel-Nut Mortar

late 19th–early 20th century
Papua New Guinea, Murik Lakes region, Mendam village, Lower Sepik River
Murik Lakes
H. 3 1/8 x W. 2 3/4 x D. 2 3/4 in. (7.9 x 7 x 7 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
Peoples throughout the Sepik region use betel nut, the fruit of the areca palm, which is chewed with lime made from burnt shells or coral and other substances to produce a mild stimulant effect. Sepik peoples create a variety of betel nut chewing accessories. The cup-like object seen here is a betel nut mortar, used by individuals who have lost their teeth to aid in chewing betel nut. When chewing, the individual periodically places the nut and a small quantity of lime in the mortar and crushes it with a pestle to release the active ingredients before placing it back in the mouth. Some betel nut mortars, carried by male elders, served as marks of secular and religious authority. Often adorned with images of spirits, ancestors, or other supernatural beings, some also had magical properties.
Ingeborg de Beausacq, New York, until 1958; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1958, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1958–1978

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