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

Cutting shell disks: Langa Langa Lagoon, Solomon Islands

[heishe seller holding her child and shell bead necklaces: 29k]

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.

[Solomon Island village built on coral blocks in Langalanga Lagoon: 25k]

Flat disk beads are made from:

  1. Red-lipped spondlylus, a spiny rock oyster (romu), is the most valuable because of its pink to red color. This 2 inch (5 cm) shell is also difficult to get at 6-7 fathoms and is only found at certain reefs. Disks may be heated to deepen their color.
  2. Small white mussels (kakadu) are found everywhere. Some of these are heated to make more valuable colors, orange (faroga) or brown (kee) used for bride price.
  3. Black-lip pearl shells (kurila) are about 1 foot (30 cm) in diameter and are found in shallow water.
  4. Seeds, stems of bush plants and spacers made from turtle shell are also used in finished pieces.

[roughing out shell disc blanks: 22k]

Shells are broken into small circles about twice their finished size. Metal cylinders often replace these stone hammers.

[grinding rough edges off the shell discs: 18k]

[drilling heishe beads: 41k]

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.

[cooking shell disc beads on hot stone: 11k]

[man polishing a fathom string of shell heishe beads: 21k]

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.

[bead necklace of red shell heishe discs: 25k]

Figure 1: Map of the Solomon Islands and Bougainville

[map of the Solomon Islands including Malaita, Gudalcanal, Gizo and Bougainville, PNG: 10k]

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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