Solomon Islands: Shell Money

Shells were once the traditional form of currency used in parts of South and East Asia. Despite being replaced by bank notes and coins worldwide, shell money still has a purpose in modern Solomon culture. Crafted by hand for generations, the entire process from start to finish can take up to three days. Men are responsible for the gathering of necessary materials and women participate in the intricate process of fashioning together the shells. Young men collect four different species of shells by diving into the ocean. Women proceed to dry and break the shells into small pieces 0.4 inches (1 cm) in diameter. Each piece has a small hole drilled into the center and is then heated over a stove and cooled in water. The heating process enhances the color of the shell and once cooled are smoothed and rounded. The finished shells can be strung together using different colored strings to form ornamental costumes.