THE valuable art of shell money-making dates back for centuries in the Langalanga Lagoon – a Sub-Central region of Malaita Province in Solomon Islands.
Traditionally, shell money is used for bride price and the traditional ceremonies but in the Honiara, these crafts are commercialized as pieces of jewelry and often gifts for souvenirs. Shell money is a traditional form of currency that was used in the Solomon Islands before banknotes were introduced.
Local artisan, Clerah Anifiti from Langalanga Lagoon who specializes in the customary art of traditional shell money is one of the young women who keep this tradition alive.
When Solomon Women visited Clerah on the outskirts of West Kola Ridge in Central Honiara, she explained how she was taught [from childhood] by her mother about the art of making traditional shell money.
“Am from Abololo village in Langalanga Lagoon and I was taught how to make shell money by my mother when I was just 14. To be female from Langalanga, we are accustomed to the traditional art of making shell money from an early age,” she explained.
Traditional shell money is made from seashells and initially, the seashells are broken into small pieces roughly the same size. Then a small hole is drilled into each piece so it can be strung up later. Each piece is heated over a fire and then cooled in water.
The heat increases the color of the shell and value, but one has to be careful not to overheat it, or it becomes dull. Once the pieces have been threaded with string, the shells are smoothed and rounded. Finally, the finished pieces are assembled into strings of decorative ceremonial costumes and shell money [called Safi and Tafulia’e], Alualu (necklaces), Foudara (head band) and Kwao (headdress).
Clera admitted that she has possessed a lot of pride and a sense of ownership in crafting the seashells into a valuable form of traditional art.
“I am very happy that I have such a specialized talent and one of the best things in making shell money is that I do it with pride. I know that the product that I am making is a creation of very high value and so I must make a perfect job out of it.”
The villagers in Langa Langa Lagoon make most of their income from producing shell money and jewelry. Families sell their shell products in the Honiara city market. People of Malaita province are still using shell money today primarily for ceremonies, settling disputes, and bridal and land payments.