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Shell Currency Matt Lumi Area West Sepik Province Papua New Guinea Todd Barlin Collection


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Collection No. TB-1156
Size 73cm x 46cm
Shell Currency Matt Lumi Area West Sepik Province Papua New Guinea Todd Barlin Collection
Shell Currency Matt Lumi Area West Sepik Province Papua New Guinea Todd Barlin Collection
Shell Currency Matt Lumi Area West Sepik Province Papua New Guinea Todd Barlin Collection
Shell Currency Matt Lumi Area West Sepik Province Papua New Guinea Todd Barlin Collection

This beautiful old woven wealth object from the Lumi Area of the West Sepik Province (now called Sandaun Province) of Papua New Guinea Made from thousands of tiny Nassa shells each individually sewn onto the sago spathe and woven matt backing.  On the rectangular form  you can see a design made with the pattern of the shells with cross shapes and with small areas with ochre painting.   These woven & shell matts are called Poli  in their language, they are important wealth objects that are used as a traditional currency for bride price payments (a dowry) paid by the young mans family.  This is the largest type of Poli and the most beautiful.  The fine weaving takes great skill and many many hours to make this one poli. 

Shells in general were highly valued as traditional wealth by the people in the interior of New Guinea where they had to travel through trading from the coast where they were collected up to hundreds of kilometres through some of the most rugged terrain on the planet.  Shells are used to display a families traditional wealth & status in their communities and giving shell wealth to other families or clans helps build mutual obligations for the future.   Several times while in New Guinea I saw families discussing Bride Price contributions where shell objects and old stone axes & modern currency were all laid out on a matt for discussion, the brides family always said ” is that all you have to offer ? ”  and the grooms family said  “cant you see the valuable those objects are ”  and this would go on backwards and forwards for a whole day.

Provenance: The Todd Barlin Collection of New Guinea and Oceanic Art and Asian Art

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