I love collecting seashells. Even if I don’t plan on looking for them, I rarely manage to walk along a beach without picking up a few pieces along the way.

So when I arrived in the Solomon Islands and heard about “shell money”, I immediately wanted to learn more. When I subsequently found out that one of the Kiva borrowers in the Solomon Islands makes shell money, I knew I would have to try to meet her!

Shell money is a traditional form of currency that was used in the Solomon Islands before bank notes were introduced. Some provinces still use shell money today, primarily for ceremonies, settling disputes, and bridal and land payments. It is beautifully crafted from seashells, often consisting of strings of differently coloured shell-beads. For weddings and dowries it is carefully stitched together into ornamental costumes and headdresses.

Thanks to Rajii, who works for Kiva’s Solomon Islands field partner South Pacific Business Development, I got to meet Cecilia, a Kiva borrower who makes shell money. When we visited Cecilia and her family on the outskirts of Honiara, they demonstrated how shell money is crafted and showed off some of their beautiful pieces.

Step 1 – The seashells are cut into small pieces.

Step 2 – A small hole is drilled into each piece so it can be strung up later.

Step 3 – Each piece is heated over a small stove and then cooled in water. The heat enhances the colour of the shell, but one has to be careful not to overheat it, or it becomes dull. 

Cecilia heating up the shells.

Step 4 – Strings of the roughly hewn shell pieces are smoothed and rounded.

Finally, the finished pieces are assembled into strings of shell money, decorative headdresses or ceremonial costumes.

Cecilia's mother, Goretti, shows off a finished garland used during ceremonies.

The loan that Cecilia received enabled her to buy fresh supplies of seashells that she is turning into strings of shell money. The profits from her business help Cecilia meet her family’s daily expenses and over time she hopes to provide them with a better standard of living.

A string of Guadalcanal Province shell money.

If you would like to support a borrower like Cecilia you can find more loans from SPBD Solomon Islands here.
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