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Ghena wanamo (turtle shell spatula)

late 19th century


Massim people

Papua New Guinea

No image
  • Details

    Place where the work was made
    Louisiade Archipelago Milne Bay Province Papua New Guinea
    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
    © Massim people, under the endorsement of PIMA's 'Code of Ethics'
    Artist information
    Massim people

    Works in the collection


  • About

    '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.

Other works by Massim people