Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai‘i at Manoa


EAST NEW BRITAIN, Papua New Guinea (November 16, 1999 Post-Courier)---East New Britain (ENB) may soon start using traditional shell money, tabu, alongside the kina as legal tender in the province.

The East New Britain Provincial Assembly recently approved a government submission to carry out extensive research into the uses of tabu and the possibility of standardizing and mobilizing the currency as legal tender.

Deputy Governor and Commerce and Industry and Primary Industry Chairman Leo Dion, who presented the paper, told the assembly that the ENB people should be allowed to use their traditional money for trading purposes due to the rapid drop in the value of the kina.

He said in the paper that the use of tabu in the last century has expanded to include many more categories of expense and is accepted tender in churches, local level governments, village courts, local markets and Tolai trade stores.

Mr. Dion said the widespread use of tabu in the province, therefore, should warrant the introduction of a dual currency.

He said the province should adopt the use of tabu as its second currency.

Mr. Dion also told the assembly that there is an estimated K 6 million (US$ 2.2 million) worth of tabu available among the Tolais.

He said the value is expected to increase with every purchase of tabu from outside and brought into the province.

Mr. Dion also said that only one quarter of the K 6 million worth of tabu is in circulation while the other three quarters of it is stored away in rolls or wheels by the elder clansman in their storage houses.

He said the administration would conduct a proper study of tabu, particularly the spacing between the tabu shells, plus the length of a fathom.

He said the study would also research the possibility of setting up a customary wealth bank, which would help to mobilize and control the tabu currency.

He said the central bank must also be consulted to recognize the tabu as legal tender in the province to allow it to be used more freely.

The Deputy Governor said part of the study would be done by a delegation of four to five officials from the province.

He said they will have to travel to Malaita province in the Solomon Islands to see the operational structure and policies of the customary wealth banks there.

He said the officials are also expected to visit Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, to study how the credit union league is mobilizing the customary wealth economy.

The assembly, which approved the paper, called on Mr. Dion to ensure that his division carries out the study urgently.

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