- Gourds have been used by many societies in vast and diverse ways. These oddly shaped, hard-skinned, fruits come from various plants in the Cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae). This gourd would have contained lime which is used in the chewing of betelnut; the fruit of a palm tree with stimulant properties. Today, somewhere between a quarter and a tenth of the world's population from east Africa to Polynesia chew betelnut. When the nuts are chewed with lime (calcium hydroxide), an alkaloid called arecoline is converted to arecaidine which has a stimulant affect on the nervous system. It has an energising effect, and can be used to stave off tiredness. The ingredients used in chewing combine to create a red colour, which stains the mouth and saliva. Long-term use of betelnut is now recognised as a cancer risk.
The gourd was collected by Hugh Hastings Romilly, a colonial administrator associated with the early years of the British Protectorate in New Guinea. The gourd contains a removable stopper, covered with a decorative weaved pattern of plant fibres. At the time of collection, Romilly was the Deputy Special Commissioner for British New Guinea, and lived in Port Moresby. The gourd was presented to the British Museum by the Queensland Commission. Several other items collected by Romilly were donated to the collection at the same time as this gourd; some of these have since been returned to the British Museum or donated to other collections.
- Record posted on March 25, 2009 and last updated March 25, 2009