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Asian art

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Container for betel quid

19th century-20th century


Unknown Artist


This bamboo vessel with traces of lime residue would have once formed part of a larger set of paraphernalia for the preparation and consumption of betel. The slaked lime contained within would have been combined with areca nut (‘pinang’) and other desired ingredients before being wrapped in betel (‘sirih’) leaves to form chewing quads. As well as producing a mild
stimulative effect, betel was believed to possess medicinal and magical properties, and to facilitate contact with the supernatural world. Throughout Borneo even the most utilitarian items were embellished with elaborate designs alluding to plants and creatures from the natural world as well as those from the upper and lower realms. One of the most prominent designs is the mythical dragon–dog (‘aso’) motif, a fierce creature of the underworld associated with fertility and believed to provide great protection from malevolent spirits. In this container, a design of entwined ‘aso’ motifs has been carved into the surface of the bamboo tube. The designs have been abstracted to create a stylised yet identifiable reference to the large jaws and curling fangs of the composite beast.


Other Title

Lime container

Place where the work was made

Kalimantan Borneo Indonesia

Cultural origin

Kenyah or Kayan


19th century-20th century

Media categories

Woodwork , Metalwork

Materials used

Bamboo, rattan, metal, lime residue


31 x 5.7 x 5.7 cm


Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

  • Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–06 Jan 2019


Christopher Wilson, pre Nov 1986-1996, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, probably purchased in Sarawak, Malaysia mid 1970s or1985. Appears in 'Southeast Asian tribal art', an unpublished text by Christopher Wilson, College of Fine Arts, Sydney, November 1986.

Mariann Ford, 1996-Dec 2010, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, Inherited by Mariann Ford from the estate of Christopher Wilson. Gift to the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of the Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010.

Referenced in 2 publications


Niki van den Heuvel, Ancestral art of the Indonesian archipelago, Sydney, 2017, 86 (colour illus.).

Christopher Wilson, Southeast Asian Tribal Art, Nov 1986, Plate 10 (colour illus.) unpaginated.. detail