Oceania: East Sepik: Papua New Guinea
Materials: tropical hardwood with inlaid shells
This pudding knife was made by the Kwoma culture from the Eastern Sepik region of Papua New Guinea. It is 15.25″ long and 3.25” wide, and it is made out of a tropical hardwood inlaid with small pieces of shell in cross-shaped designs.
New Guinea is located in the southwest Pacific Ocean and is the world’s second largest island at more that 1000 miles in length. A central, east-west mountain range dominates New Guinea’s geography. The western half of the island contains the highest mountains in Oceania, with peaks reaching 16,024 feet. These mountains create a steady supply of rain, providing an ideal environment for the island’s highland rain forests. The tropical environment of New Guinea means it is rich in natural resources. The island has an abundance of oil, minerals, gas, timber, and fish. In fact, New Guinea has more wealth in minerals and raw materials than the entire United States, even though the island is only about the size of the state of Texas. Today, most of New Guinea’s natural resources are exported to other countries.
For most people in New Guinea the local economy is based on subsistence fishing, hunting, and farming, and is tied to the seasonal cycle. Many indigenous communities do not use paper currency. Instead, they exchange yams, banana leaves, tree pulp, and seashells. The exchange of these items is usually marked by a ceremony or ritual.
Sago, a starchy substance originating from the sago palm tree, is an ingredient in many foods in Papua New Guinea. This includes a popular pudding served at ceremonies and celebrations. The pudding knife from the Ethnology Collection would likely have played a role in one of these events. Digging sticks are used to remove the sago pulp from the tree, and the pulp is then washed and filtered through a series of funnels until only the starch remains. The starch is then pounded into a paste that can be used to create the pudding.
This is a very old video about the production of sago starch in Papua New Guinea, but the general method is the same today. It was taken from an old 8mm film, so the sound is not very good. However, it is still interesting to watch:
[Stephanie Lynn Allen]