Cut shell disks are the major craft industry in Langa Langa Lagoon off Malaita Island. They are sold in local and regional markets including neighboring islands in Papua New Guinea.
hell beads are made into necklaces, belts and arm or chest bands. Other disks are strung for use as ceremonial money (tafuliae is one type) which is measured by the fathom (6 feet or about 2 m).
June 1999: Busu Village was booked for a cruise ship stop, but the boat never came. The tourist committee had set up a demonstration in the culture house. The women and girls usually work shell in their homes. They had put on grass skirts and laid out their jewelry for sale. They showed us their traditional way to shape shell. Even with more modern tools, it is a time consuming process.
Busu Village is built on an artificial island of coral blocks like the other villages in the lagoon. The people say they came here 500-600 years ago to escape fighting on the Malaita mainland. The homes shelter on the inward side. The men's ceremonial houses face the sea.
Flat disk beads are made from:
Shells are broken into small circles about twice their finished size. Metal cylinders often replace these stone hammers.
The rough disks are rubbed down to flattened them to an even thickness. Sometimes they are placed on a board with individual depressions to do this.
Each bead is drilled separately. Quartz nodules from Malaita rivers were flaked to make flints for pump drills. Now women use hand drills with steel bits.
Disks are sometimes heated on hot stones to turn them a different or deeper color. Most valuable are red to pink, then orange, brown, black and white.
Disks are strung for the final step of smoothing them to a uniform size. Small, even strands take more work and are more valuable. This heavy work is done by the men. Shown are two old-style grooved stones. A fathom of disks is stretched taut on the board. The men grind down along its length with the stones using sand with water. Chinese grinding blocks are used today.
Links in this site:
Double strand necklace of valuable red shell beads made by Anni Kalasi.
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Artifacts on this site are collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. More background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. Carolyn Leigh, P.O. Box 85284, Tucson, AZ 85754-5284 USA, Art-Pacific at http://www.art-pacific.com/