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Pacific art

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Ghena wanamo (turtle shell spatula)

late 19th century


Massim people

Papua New Guinea


'Massim' refers to a number of cultural groups living in the south-eastern tip of the island of New Guinea and its surrounding islands, including the Trobriand, D'Entrecasteaux, Marshall Bennett and Dboyne Islands, as well as the Louisiade Archipelago, where turtle shell spatulas such as this were made. The people of the Louisiade Archipelago were first visited by Spaniards in 1606, then French sailors in 1768 and 1793, and finally by the British officer and surveyor Captain Owen Stanley aboard the H.M.S. 'Rattlesnake' in 1849. The region saw the theatre of WWII at its doorstep during the 'Battle of Milne Bay' in 1942. Following WWII, the Australian artist Nora Heysen, from whose collection this work comes, travelled to the region to paint the people and their various cultures.

In previous times, the Southern Massim people of the Louisiade Archipelago lived in small hamlets with a central men's house. Material culture from this area was largely connected with the sea: spectacularly carved and decorated canoes used for inter island trade and the complex 'Kula ring' ceremonial exchange system, as well as objects crafted from the ocean's creatures, including seashells and turtles.

Unlike other spatulas of turtle shell and wood from the region, these crescent shaped spatulas were not used to scoop powdered lime for the consumption of betel nut, but were the final prestige objects given to a woman following the death of her husband.


Cultural origin

Massim people


late 19th century

Media category

Ceremonial object

Materials used

turtle shell, 'bagi' shell (Spondylus), plant fibre string


27.5 x 19.0 cm


Purchased with funds provided by the Florence Turner Blake Bequest and the Patricia Lucille Bernard Bequest 2016


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Massim people

Works in the collection