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Post Lot Text
By Harry Beran
This Massim lime spatula with the handle carved as a pig, which can be attributed to Mutuaga on stylistic grounds. It is illustrated in Beran (1996, Plate 104) and Meyer (1995, Fig. 731). Other pig-handled spatulas by Mutuaga are illustrated in my book on Mutuaga of 1996, in Chauvet (1930, Fig. 223) and Beran (1988, Fig. 33), Firth (1936: 55), Guiart (1963: 318), and Newton (1975, Fig. 15).
Mutuaga lived in Dagodagoisu Village, located opposite Suau Island in the south-western part of the Massim region, and was active as a woodcarver from c. 1880 to c. 1920. In my view he is one of the greatest traditional Massim artists and one of the very few whose name we know. He started his career carving lime spatulas and other objects for local use and after meeting the missionary Charles Abel, who became his patron, also carved objects as gifts for the missionary and for trade with other Westerners.
The figurative handles of Massim lime spatulas range in style from highly stylized to semi-naturalistic ones. Those by Mutuaga are at the semi-naturalistic end of the range, as are some other lime spatulas from the south-western part of the Massim region. One of these is the praying mantis lime spatula from Suau Island illustrated in Newton (1975, Fig. 14)
The spatula being offered is probably the finest of the more than twenty pig-handled spatulas by Mutuaga. Its small size, patina, and deposit on the blade suggest that it was made for local use and used as a lime spatula. Most other pig-handled spatulas are much larger, show no evidence of having been used as lime spatulas, and were presumably made as presents for or trade with Western missionaries in the area or visitors to it.
P.G. Black of the Burns-Philp shipping company may have been the first to collect one of these spatulas, between 1886 and 1901. The present example was collected by W.D. Cross, his successor at the company as inspector of branches in Papua and the Solomons, before 1920. It was sold by his daughter to Galleries Primitif in Sydney, bought there by me in 1993, and sold to John Friede with the rest of my collection in 2005.
The interpretation of the spatula's handle as a pig comes from Weibo Mamohoi, a Massim informant who, as a young man, knew Mutuaga. He suggested that Mutuaga carved such spatulas because there is a myth, widely known in the Suau area, of a cannibal pig that terrorized local villagers until a young man killed it. Another reason why Mutuaga may have carved pig-handled lime spatulas is the importance, at his time, of pig-distribution festivals in the Suau area. Such spatulas may have been commissioned by distinguished pig-breeders. (Cf. Beran 1996: 113-14.)