Alakasam, Komgi, Matupit, and Raluana - Money


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The kina is the national currency for Papua New Guinea, and it is used in the mainstream marketplace. There is also a traditional form of currency used in the Tolai community called Tambu. Tambu is made from shells which were traditionally collected from a local snail. Their shells were gathered by leaving a piece of fruit on a coral reef and waiting for a few hours. After that time a significant amount of these small snails would have gathered on the piece of fruit. The snails are then collected and dried to isolate the shell from the snail. These particular snails used to be heavily concentrated along the entire coastline of East Britain, but the increase in water temperature in the area following the eruption of Tavurvur forced the snails to migrate elsewhere. They are now only found along the coast of West New Britain and New Ireland.

Once the shells have been dried and cleaned, a hole is made through the shell. The shells are then strung one by one onto a thin piece of cane roughly a meter in length. To accommodate those families who have an abundance of Tambu and very few Kina, the government has standardized an exchange rate between Kina and Tambu. One fathom of Tambu (a one meter strand) is equivalent to five Kina. While this has facilitated the use of Tambu in the economic sector, its use is more prevalent in Tolai ceremonies. The shells can be bought at different local markets in SP beer bottles which have a volume of 300 milliliters. A bottle of shells (worth about 25 Kina when placed on a strand) costs about 20 Kina, not including the cost of the cane.

When children are born they are given a particular amount of Tambu so they can begin their collection which grows throughout the course of their life. A child can acquire Tambu for completing various jobs around the community. For example, Eunice’s son from Raluana was given a significant amount of Tambu from various members of the community for working at a cemetery. During major events in a young man’s life, he usually receives some allotment of Tambu. For instance, initiation into manhood is an example of a major milestone when young men would receive fathoms of Tambu. Once the man has reached adulthood and is ready to find a spouse, he uses the Tambu he has collected over the years as his dowry. The families negotiate the amount of Tambu to be given to the bride’s family.

Tambu is widely used among the communities to purchase goods and resources. Tambu can be used in transactions at local commodity markets as well as transactions for services between members of the community. As a result of the standardized conversion rate between Kina and Tambu, Tambu can now be used to pay school fees when Kina is scarce. To facilitate the transactability of the Tambu, the government has set up a special bank solely for the conversion and management of Tambu.

Date Entered: June 2010