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Betel and lime box

Date: c 1994
Dimensions:
Overall: 130 mm, 1.15 kg
Display Dimensions: 131 x 170 x 267 mm
Medium: Wood
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Box
Object No: 00018177
Place Manufactured:Indonesia

User Terms

    Description
    This betel and lime box (tampa sirih) was manufactured in Indonesia and is representative of the type used to store one of the few luxuries of the Macassan traders. Upper tray carries ingredients for preparing a chew of the mildly narcotic areca nut (areca catechu), betel leaf (chavica betel) and lime (calcium oxide) with a large compartment beneath the tray to store implements.

    SignificanceThis object is representative of the presence of Macassan traders in northern Australia. It highlights the small comforts allowed on the prahus whilst undertaking the journey from Indonesia to Australia.


    HistorySince at least the 17th century Macassan traders from Indonesia were coming to the shores of northern Australia on an annual basis to harvest trepang (sea cucumbers, beche de mer) - a delicacy favoured throughout Asia, particularly in China. At the time, Macassan traders were travelling in the most technologically advanced vessels seen in Australian waters.

    In their prahus (also spelled perahu) they sailed down during the monsoonal wet season and returned at the start of the dry season to trade with Dutch and Chinese merchants. They also collected and traded other marine products such as pearls, pearl shell, trochus shell, fish, turtle shells and meat. This trade started to decline at the turn of the 20th century when the Australian government introduced customs taxes and license fees as a deterrent.

    The contact between the local Indigenous people, the Yolngu and the Macassans had an impact on both cultures in aspects of art, trade, technology, language, economy and even marriage. The Macassan visitors are remembered in Indigenous oral history, ceremonies and paintings depicting Macassan prahus.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: BETEL AND LIME BOX, POSSIBLY MANUFACTURED IN INDONESIA

    Web title: Betel and lime box

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