X65.7775 Lime spatula

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Lime spatula
Trobirand Islands, Papua New Guinea
19th-20th century
Wood, cotton thread, shells, bead
L: 29.0 cm, W: 3.0 cm, D: 3.5 cm (L: 11.4 in, W: 1.2 in, D: 1.4 in)
Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.7775


A slice of areca nut and a dab of slaked lime, rolled inside a betel leaf—these are the basic ingredients of the betel quid chewed by millions of people in Asia and the Pacific. Betel is a mild stimulant, activated by chewing these ingredients together. Its social meanings are myriad. It may be prepared by a lover, exchanged with in-laws to propose a marriage, extended in welcome to friends or enemies, or accepted as a sign of deference to authority. The care and the precious materials invested in making the beautiful implements used to prepare betel—including areca nut cutters, mortars, and lime spatulas—are testimony to the importance of all things sealed with a quid.

Gallery Text, Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives, 2006