Massim Trobriand, Turtleshell, Crescent Topped Lime Spatula. Very finely balanced and worked rococo piece of sublime form. Decorated with Lime infill and discs of chama-shell attached to the crescent rim. Interlocking scrolls, immaculately engraved to carved Frigate Bird finals on each tip.
Height 26cm (10") Width 19cm (7.5"). Palmer Family Collection.
Ghena Ngaa Wealth Display Spatula
In the Louisiade Archipelago there are crescent-shaped lime spatula made of wood and turtle shell and their primary purpose is not to transport lime from the gourd to the mouth but to display a form of currency known as bagi, a form of shell wealth, and were given to a widow during elaborate funeral feasting ceremonies.
In the Southern Massim there are large whalebone lime spatula also used primarily to display bagi, to increase its value. These rare items were carried by men of wealth and status, had a dual function. They were used as lime spatulas to carry powdered shell lime from storage gourd to mouth for betel chewing, but they also served as carriers for the precious ground shell disk currency. They were traditionally carved in wood, turtle shell or (on rare occasions) in whalebone and then had the shell currency disks attached through the holes at the top.
According to a note on the British museum website, the traditional form of the gabaela has two interpretations. Upside down, with the spatula in the air, it represents a stylised canoe with its mast. With the point aimed downwards, however, it may be interpreted as either a stylised human face or figure, with the curved arch representing the forehead or chest and arms, the heads of the stylised birds at either end representing the eyes or testes, and the blade of the spatula the nose or phallus.