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Papua New Guinea – Betel chewing and smoking

Betel leaf is traditionally chewed in Papua New Guinea for its mild narcotic effect - much like tobacco is used in Europe.

Betel leaves are chewed together with areca nut and lime powder. Equipment used in betel chewing includes a pestle and mortar to grind the lime, a gourd for storing it, and a spatula for transferring the lime to the mouth. Betel-chewing equipment is decorative, portable and very popular with collectors.

Use the links to see all of the different types of betel chewing and smoking equipment from PNG in Plymouth’s collections.

Many of our catalogue records were created in the past and have yet to be updated. Some of the historic wording may now appear outdated and even offensive. Please be aware that the database may include records for objects that are considered secret or sacred by some communities. If you see anything that concerns you, please get in touch with us.


lime container from Papua New Guinea

Container (PLYMG.1909.324x)

Lime containers

There are 15 containers for holding lime in Dauncey’s collection at Plymouth, made from gourds, wood or ostrich eggshell. Twelve of these are made from gourds, two from wood and one from an ostrich eggshell, each with a small opening at the top for holding the lime. Most of the gourds have burnt-in geometric patterns. The eggshell is decorated with red seeds, attached around its opening with resin. There are two wooden mortars made from dark wood, their carved patterns emphasised in white. One of these is accompanied by a small wooden figure, probably used as a pestle. There is also a small gourd with burnt-in decoration, collected by Gertrude Benham, which is described as a snuff bottle but is very similar to Dauncey’s lime-gourds. One of the lime-gourds in the Plymouth collection has an elaborate spatula made from bone, decorated with white glass trade beads and red trade-cloth strips.

View the lime containers in the collection

Black and white photo of a man using a lime gourd and spatula

[1] Courtesy and copyright Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI 34366)

The photograph [1] shows an older man, dressed in ceremonial costume, using a lime-gourd and spatula very similar to the one in Plymouth – it may even be the same one.


lime spatula from Papua New Guinea

Spatula (PLYMG 1909.301x)

Lime spatulas

There are 25 lime spatulas from Dauncey’s collection in the Museum. 21 of these are made of dark wood with carved handles, some of which depict human figures, faces or birds, while others have more abstract patterns. One spatula is decorated with a string of black, blue and red glass beads. The most elaborate carved figure has been identified as the work of Mutuaga, a celebrated carver whose work can be found in many museum collections. There are also six spatulas made from bone. Two further blackened wooden spatulas with carved handles were obtained from collectors other than Dauncey.

View the lime spatulas in the collection

Black and white photo of a man demonstrating the use of a lime gourd and spatula.

[2] Courtesy and copyright Royal Anthropological Intitute (RAI 34308)

This man in the photograph [2] is demonstrating the use of a lime gourd and spatula.


Smoking tobacco

Tobacco pipes

Tobacco pipe from Papua New Guinea

Tobacco was introduced to New Guinea by Europeans, three or four centuries ago. There are nine pipes for smoking tobacco in Dauncey’s collection at Plymouth, five more that may or may not be Dauncey’s, and one from another collector. Each is a long bamboo tube with a burnt-in design, and a hole in the side for inhaling through. Most have geometric designs, but some depict spirit-figures and faces similar to those found on drums and on men’s bark belts. Most of the pipes are cylindrical but two have pointed ends, like the crocodile mouths seen on drums or on hunting charms. Different smoking pipes are used in different parts of Papua New Guinea – in some areas people used smaller tubes, rather like cigarette-holders. Different smoking pipes are used in different parts of Papua New Guinea – in some areas people used smaller tubes, rather like cigarette-holders.

View the tobacco pipes in the collection

Black and white photo of a man using a tobacco pipe

[3] Courtesy and copyright Royal Anthropological Intitute (RAI 34307)

In the photograph [3], a man is demonstrating the use of a tobacco pipe.