Object: Lime box

E/1955/6/83
Lime box (or flask)
Solomon Islanders
Oceania: Melanesia: Solomon Islands: Nggela Sule (Florida Island): Vatapura
Unknown date: before 1945
Materials: Bamboo, wood, charcoal, tree sap, and lime

This object is a lime box or flask from the village of Vatapura in the Solomon Islands. Lime is a white powder of inorganic material containing calcium, and can be made from limestone, shell, or coral that has been treated with high heat. People of southern Asia and Oceania commonly ingest lime while chewing betel nuts. Betel nuts, also known as Areca catechu, are actually the seeds of a palm tree native to east Africa, southern Asia, and the Pacific islands. These seeds are commonly chewed, similar to chewing tobacco, along with betel leaves (or daka “mustard” seed pods) and lime. In this combination the betel nuts have a mild stimulant effect. Users of betel nuts can be easily identified by the red saliva and blackened teeth produced by the seed. The lime is primarily used as a mild abrasive which irritates the gums and allows the stimulant to be more easily absorbed by the mucus membranes of the mouth. These properties also contribute to the grinding away of tooth enamel, and the darkening of the teeth in habitual users.

The following video describes the traditional method of chewing betel nuts in Papua New Guinea.

Similar lime flasks can be found in the British Museum, Queensland Museum, and the Birmingham Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and others.  [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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