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A Fine Old Sepik River Ceremonial Lime Container


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Collection No. TB-2768
Size Height 83cm or 23.6 Inches
A Fine Old Sepik River Ceremonial Lime Container
A Fine Old Sepik River Ceremonial Lime Container
A Fine Old Sepik River Ceremonial Lime Container
A Fine Old Sepik River Ceremonial Lime Container
A Fine Old Sepik River Ceremonial Lime Container
A Fine Old Sepik River Ceremonial Lime Container
A Fine Old Sepik River Ceremonial Lime Container

This Superb Ceremonial Lime Container from the Iatmul People in the middle Sepik River area of the East Sepik Province in Papua New Guinea.

A ceremonial Lime Containers like this example are called “Bandi Na Iavo “in the Iatmul Language. The Iatmul people and most people in the Sepik River area chew betel nut from the Areca Palm. Betel is chewed with lime made from burnt and crushed seashells and mustard leaves (Piper sp). Chewing Betel nut is a mild stimulate such as smoking or coffee & people use it throughout their lifetime.

This type of finely carved Ceremonial Lime Container was presented to newly initiated boys by their maternal uncles to mark their newly achieved status as men. It was used to chew betel during important traditional ceremonies.

The finial is adorned with important clan ancestral totems as in this example being a long-necked bird like a cockerel that is standing on a crocodile head.  These clan totems are seen on other important ceremonial objects like sacred flutes, drums & other carvings.

The tops of these containers have a hole for the insertion of the lime spatula to get lime from the container and into one’s mouth to mix with the betel nut.   The Spatula that was used often has carved ridges all down their length & when used men can stick the spatula into the Lime Container make a loud scraping percussion noise that is thought to be the voices of ancestral spirits.

Sepik River artists have produced some of the most beautiful & imaginative artworks ever made by any culture. When you see these artworks well displayed in homes of collectors or in the vast space for Oceanic Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or at The Musee du Quai Branly in Paris they are outstanding.

For a similar Iatmul Ceremonial Lime Container with the same iconography see the Metropolitan Museum of Art, they date theirs as 19th to early 20th Century  https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/313645

Provenance: Collected during WW2 by returning servicemen in the 1940s. The Todd Barlin Collection of Oceanic Art