Ceremonial lime container (ahumama)

CULTURE:
Tetum people
DATE:
19th–early 20th century
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General Description

In Indonesia, the chewing of betel nut was once a ubiquitous tradition. Beautifully carved, woven, and beaded containers and paraphernalia associated with the ceremonial chewing of betel reflect one's identity, social standing, and level of refinement. The components in betel chewing are of deep ritual and philosophical significance to Tetun-speaking peoples. As in other areas, these components are part of the ritual exchanges associated with both marriage and offerings to the ancestors.

This particular container was fashioned from white sandalwood, an unusual choice of material. Normally, lime containers in this shape are of bamboo or other woods adorned with geometric designs, not a hunkered figure. As a carving convention, a hunkered figure normally connotes an ancestor or a deity. It remains unclear whether this well-handled lime container was used daily by its owner, or whether it was a ceremonial item belonging to a ruling family or an heirloom used in some ritual form.

Adapted from

Steven G. Alpert, "Ceremonial lime container (ahumama)," in Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas Museum of Art, ed. Reimar Schefold in collaboration with Steven Alpert (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013), 252-253.