43. Notes on the Manufacture of the Malaita Shell Bead Money of the Solomon Group

C. M. Woodford
1908 Man  
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more » ... ff the coast of Malaita a series of small inhabited islets have been built up upon the fringing reef. These singular reef-islet villages occur at Alite, Langalanga, and Auki, on the west coast; at Sio Harbour, at the extreme north-western end of the island; and at Funafou, Urassi, Sulafou, Atta, Beresombua, LKwai, Nongasila, and Uru, on the east coast. The islets appear to have had their origin in raised patches of coral upon the reef flats, which have been laboriously added to and gradually built up by their inhabitants until a solid foundation, well raised above the water, was produLced. They are undoubtedly of very ancient origin. The islets are faced with a wall of coral stones about six to eight feet high, with here and there an opening like an embrasure with a sloping beach for the admission of the canoes. They vary from as little as under a quarter of an acre to two or three acres in extent, and are densely peopled by a seafaring population, who speak a different dialect from the bush natives of the mainland. The inhabitants of these islets get their living by fishing. The fish they sell to the natives of the mainland, in exchange for vegetables, pigs, and articles of native manufacture, at certain recognised market-places on the beach, to which they resort in their canoes almost every day at times arranged beforehand with the natives of the bush. The actual bartering is done by the women, who advance one towards another, the island woman with a fish, and the bush woman with yams or taro, while the men stand on guard on either side with spears or rifles. Sometimes it is not even safe for the two parties to approach one another, and in that case a small canoe is veered ashore with a line, the articles for exchange being placed in it. I am informed that disputes at these markets are rare, but at other times the island natives cannot venture ashore upon the mainland without risk. Having no canoes, the bush natives cannot visit the reef islets, and the islanders probably take good care that they shall keep none. The reef islanders, on the other hand, are accustomed from their earliest years to be constantly afloat, and become expert in the management of the merest shell of wood. I remember, during, my first visit to Auki in 1886, counting no less than ninety-five canoes round the ship at one time, from the crazy thing hardly larger than a butcher's tray, skilfully managed by a child of six, to the more perfeet article large enough to carry three or four men. They have, of course, larger canoes capable of carrying twenty or thirty men, but these are only used for long voyages. Even upon such a small island as Auki two factions exist. The island, which may be perhaps two acres in extent, is of reniform shape, and, probably, was originally two islets. The western part of it is known as Auki, and the eastern part as Lisiala. There is a strip of neutral ground in the centre separating the two settlements, divided on either side by walls of coral stone six feet in height. The population of this islet, I was told, and I can well believe it, amounted in 1896 to 500. The houses, or rather hovels, for they are nothing else, are crowded so closely ,together that there is hardly room to pass between them, and the ground set apart for the burial of the dead still further curtails the space available for habitation. It is at Auki, Langalanga and Alite that the manufacture of shell money is ,carried on, and the quantity produced during a year must amount to many hundreds ,of fathoms.
doi:10.2307/2839489 fatcat:gdf5c4wspbacxbng3bhs6vsnlm