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Art-Pacific (Carolyn Leigh - Ron Perry): Guide to Artifacts

Shells are Gold

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[Boy with kina shell: 38k]

Boy wearing kina shell necklace. Glass or plastic trade beads are used in his headband and for his multi-strand necklaces.

When the Leahy brothers came into the Highlands searching for gold, they found people who valued the gold-lipped pearl shell as much as the miners valued gold. Shells are valuable all over New Guinea, but especially so in the Highlands where the traditional trading contacts between tribes slowly passed shells from ocean to mountain valley.

The mountain people had no concept of the sea, but they wanted the rare, glowing shells. After contact, the Leahys and others flew in thousands of shells to pay their laborers.

More Dancers and Kina Shells

[Toea: 9k]

[Shell money ring: 9k]

The Papua New Guinea currency equivalent of the dollar is called the kina, but shells are still used in traditional ceremonial payments.

(left) Another traditional unit of shell currency is the toea like the one used in this shell pendant. The Papua New Guinea coins were named after these disks. 100 toea coins equal one kina in the PNG currency.

(right) Large shell money ring from the Maprik area, East Sepik Province.

[Kina silver coin: 4k]

The Papua New Guinea kina coin has a hole like the shell disks, so they may be strung together. (These metal kinas were later discontinued.) Shell disks are cut with bamboo drills.

More Dancers and Toea Jewelry

[Old man with shell nose plugs: 35k]

[Hagen Big Man: 37k]

(left) Many other types of shells are used for bilas such as the bailer shell worn by this Mt. Hagen Big Man. This shell was used in the coastal villages to bail water out of canoes.

(right) Highland Big Man with kina shell necklace, green beetle and geri geri shell headband, shell and bone nose pieces.

More Shell Bilas

BILAS | Shells are Gold | Tooth and Bone | String and Things

See also: Note on shell money and Cut shell disks

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Order now: Art Dealer in the Last Unknown, Ron Perry and New Guinea Art, the early years: 1964 - 1973 by Carolyn Leigh and Ron Perry, 320 pages of adventure, over 450 early photographs - join Ron in the jungles of New Guinea on his search for tribal art.


Melanesian art TOC | Map of art areas of Melanesia
Papua New Guinea: Highlands: body art - Bundi tapa - jewelry/dancers | Karawari and Blackwater Rivers: masks - carvings - map | Massim: artifacts- Trobriand Kula - map | Kula canoe | New Britain: Baining - Sulka - Tolai dukduk | New Ireland: Malagan | Ramu River: masks - carvings - map | Sepik River: masks - carvings - villages - map | Papuan Gulf: masks - carvings - map - Gogodala - Kukukuku
other areas: Asmat | Solomon Islands: crafts - jewelry - map
art and craft:
barkcloth (tapa) | body art | cane and fiber figures | canoes and prows | jewelry/dancers | masks - Middle Sepik | phallocrypts | pottery - Chambri | shields | story boards | suspension hooks | weapons | yam masks - fiber | yam masks - wood

Indonesian art TOC | Dyak baby carriers and masks | furniture | Java folk art | Lombok baskets | Lombok lontar boxes | masks from Bali and Java | puppets

China: Bai textiles/art TOC | baby carriers | baby hats | woodblock prints

Collecting New Guinea art in the field since 1964.

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Artifacts on this site were collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. 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. by Carolyn Leigh is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0