Tabu (Shell money)

Production date
Pre 1984
Papua New Guinea
North Solomons Province
See full details

Object detail

Shell money, known as 'tabu' or 'tambu', made of nassarius shell threaded on rattan.
CH classification INDIGENOUS CULTURES Melanesian & South Sea Islander currency
Production date
Pre 1984
L 250 mm (when looped in four strands, not unrolled length)
History and use
Alongside the national currency, Kina, the Tolai people of the Gazelle Peninsula maintain a traditional currency of shell money, or tabu. Tabu is sacred currency. While it is used occasionally to buy tangible items, such as goods and perishables, its primary value is in cultural exchange and it has significant use in Tolai society and ceremonial practice.
“Shellmoney is a very important part of TOLAI tradition, and is still being used today in our way of life –
when a baby is born,
a bride leaves her family for a new home,
when a man dies,
also to solve disputes and quarrels,
so shellmoney is still more important than anything money can buy.”
–Detuei Purpuruk, in a letter addressed to Arnold Young and Jenny Sebba, November 1984
Tabu is made from nassariidae shells, collected from the shore or sea floor before being dried in the sun. Once the top of the shell – with the curve – has been removed with pliers, the flattened pieces are threaded onto strips of rattan.
The tabu was gifted to Jenny Sebba and Arnold Young by Steamships Trading Department Employees in Kieta in 1984, and donated to the Museum of Tropical Queensland in 2015.
Associated person
Registration number


My shortlist


Explore other objects by colour