Giant Nassa Shell Ring, Loloi, New Britain, PNG, 1980s - 1990s

Nassa shells, cane, fishing line
72 x 56 cm

Loloi Giant Nassa Shell Rings are made by threading tiny nassa shells onto fine pliable cane, then wound round and round, to make a large wheel-like form. Only wealthy Tolai people of New Britain own these Loloi, as the nassa shells are money, and can only be acquitted slowly, over time. Nassa shells are the traditional currency of the Tolai people, still used even today. A small strand of these nassa shells can be used in daily transactions, to buy a pig, a canoe etc. When a man becomes wealthy, thousands of shells on the cane are wound together into large circles called “Loloi”. Usually they are bound with pandanus or banana leaves to preserve their whiteness, and stored away. It becomes like a shell bank. The nassa shells are collected both locally but also from as far away as being traded in from the Solomon Islands. In pre-contact times part of warfare and raiding parties was to confiscate the enemy’s shell wealth.

“Loloi” are important for Bride Price Payment – when the dowry is paid for a new wife. They are rarely sold or traded, and few are found outside Papua New Guinea, and their traditional use within Tolai society. They are of great value and highly prized.

At important community events the”Loloi” are brought out for display and are presented to the wife’s family as the most important part of a Bride Price, or, at compensation and funeral gatherings, used to pay debts to those who have helped through one’s life.
At these ceremonies the shell lengths are unwound from the circular “Loloi”, and cut into sections, to be presented to the various participants.

Then the process of acquiring enough shells to make another Giant Shell Rings starts all over again.

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