Gunantuna (Tolai people) / Tikana Arip (fathom) 2018 / tabu (nassa callosa and nassa camelus shell), cane, palm leaf basket / © The artists

Gunantuna (Tolai People)
Diwarra (shell money) 2018

Not Currently on Display

Comprising nassa shells strung onto elegant pieces of cane, known as fathoms, Diwarra is legal tender throughout East New Britain. It is also used for ceremonial transactions, such as bride price, wealth payments in death rites, and society initiation fees.

These pieces of cane are also formed into wheels, which are sealed with leaves to keep them dry and to declare their role as a bank. The highest in value are the majestic wheels known as Tutana, which are displayed as symbols of wealth and status. In contrast to Western economic systems, Diwarra embodies an important indigenous relationship-based economic system — the accumulation of wealth is both based on and reflects social connections and merit.

Migrating over centuries from nearby New Ireland, the Gunantuna (Tolai people) now live on the volcanic Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain island in Papua New Guinea. Best known for their male-only secret societies, the Gunantuna have a unique dual currency system that combines Papua New Guinea’s national tender (kina and toea) with shell money, known as Tabu or Diwarra.

Gideon Kakabin (1956–2018) was an elder of the Gunantuna (Tolai people). Initiated into Tabuan society, he held ceremonial status within the community and the rights to engage in Tolai ceremony and with material culture. These Tutana banks were created by a group of men, with female support, led by Gideon Kakabin.