Initiate Lime Gourd

Length: 72.5cm

Wood, bamboo, rattan, plant fibers, black pigment and shells

Presumed period: first half of 20th century

Iatmul language group

Middle course of the Sepik River

Papua New Guinea

Provenance :

Jacques Lebrat Collection, Paris


Called mbandi iavu (lit. insider’s gourd), this elegantly carved gourd was used to preserve lime, associated with the chewing of betel leaf and areca nut.

It is decorated with a Janus-shaped human face, its body stylized with openwork motifs, and a long nose whose tip extends into a rooster’s head with outstretched claws. This bird was admired in the Sepik River region for its brilliant plumage and sexual vigor.

Towards the end of the – inevitable – period of reclusion in the young boy’s initiation, the wau (maternal uncle) would offer him this lime gourd, which he carried on his shoulder, cap down

This type of gourd was a prestigious utensil. They were handed down from generation to generation and represented the initiate’s clan ancestors.

For two similar models collected by Paul Wirz, see Friede, 2005, vol. 1, p. 223, fig. 190.

The second gourd is in the collections of the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam (Inv. no. 2670-138).


Photo caption: Young initiate carrying his lime case. 1953. Photo by Des Bartlett

Museum of Anthropology, University of Queensland. Inv. 32166

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