Shell money Essay examples

Submitted By alextayduck
Words: 7504
Pages: 31

From Currency to Agency: Shell Money in
Contemporary Langalanga, Solomon Islands*
Pei-yi Guo
Assistant Research Fellow, Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan

Shell money composed of strings of shell beads have been widely used in island Melanesia as bride wealth, payment for compensation, medium for trade, and personal ornaments. Most production centers in the region abandoned their manufacture since the introduction of colonial currencies, and the Langalanga is the only group in the Solomon Islands today that continues to make shell money (bata) for regional circulation. This paper analyzes why Langalanga people persist in manufacturing shell money and widening its flow in the Solomon Islands today. How local currency is perceived and appropriated is highly related to the colonial/ state currencies in the area. This paper examines the entanglement between local currency and colonial/ state currency among the Langalanga, especially in comparison with the Kwaio in Malaita Province, Solomon Islands.
According to David Akin’s research, the local currency (kofu) in Kwaio becomes the symbol of cultural value and local agency against the penetration of the outside world. However, the Langalanga took a different path in constructing their relationships with the state. Instead of restricting its flow within their own territory, the Langalanga produce more shell money and expand its circulation to a wider region as a way to maintain their identity and agency by actively participating in the formulation of a

The paper was originally presented at the conference “Search for Interface:
Interdisciplinary and Area Studies in Southeast Asia and the Pacific,” which was held on June 23-25, 2004 in Marseilles, France. I thank the conference participants for their comments, and the Langalanga people for their assistance in this research. I am also indebted to Prof. Paul van der Grijp for his help in the edition of the final draft.



18 亞太研究論壇第三十一期 2006.03

new political and economic arena. 1
The Langalanga people, with a population of about 5,000 in 1997, reside in coastal settlements or small islets in the Langalanga Lagoon, which stretches for about 19 kilometers from Auki to Buma on the west coast of
Malaita Island, Solomon Islands. Oral traditions in Langalanga point out that the emergence of the Langalanga was a result of multiple waves of migration. The majority first came down from the Kwara’ae and Kwaio mountains of Malaita Island to the Langalanga coast, and later moved to offshore islets and even built their own artificial islets in the lagoon (Guo
2004b). The new residence then attracted people from the mountains of
Malaita and other islands in the Solomon Sea, including migrants from northern and southern Malaita, Nggela, Guadalcanal, and Santa Isabel. The
Langalanga used to dwell on artificial or semi-artificial islets a few hundred meters away from the coast in the lagoon, but the majority has moved onshore in the past few decades (Guo 2001a).
The Langalanga are closely related to the neighboring Kwara’ae and
Kwaio people in many respects, especially in terms of ancestry, practices of ancestral worship and gender relations. However, they are unique in terms of language, subsistence strategy, and several features in culture.
Langalanga economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture, fishing and wage labor, and some persons are businessmen who own shops, buses, or ships. Nevertheless, for generations, the most characteristic and basic subsistence strategy has been the manufacture of shell money, which is used by many groups in the Solomon Islands for bride price, compensation, body decoration, and sometimes payment of land transactions. Limited by the shortage of space on tiny islets and the insufficient area of land for agricultural production or cash cropping, the Langalanga exchange fish and shell money with bush people for other food items,