The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Length: 10.640 m
Collected by Ms Dorota Starzecka
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Feather money (tevau)
From Naipe Village, Nendö, Santa Cruz, Solomon Islands, around AD 1975
The Melanesian island group of Santa Cruz lies south-east of the Solomon Islands group and north of Vanuatu. Santa Cruz is administered as part of the Solomon Islands.
Feather money is used in Santa Cruz as a form of currency for settling important obligations (though now Solomon Islands currency is also used for other purposes). This currency, known as tevau, is formed as coils resembling long belts. The supply is limited by the availability of the feathers used and the man-hours involved in its manufacture. It is solely used as currency. It is used to make payments to a bride's family, for purchasing pigs and large canoes. This example was purchased from Martin Mekapi of Mateone village, Graciosa Bay on a British Museum field trip (1975-76). The coil had been recently made and was the first coil he received as bride-price for his wife's sister. It was made by Mekimo, brother of Melobo.
The manufacture of the feather coils is limited to just a few hereditary specialists, working on one island, who are thought to receive their skills from spirits. One man locates the small scarlet honeyeater birds (Myzomela cardinalis) living in the rain forest, and traps them using sticky perches. He then plucks the feathers from their heads, breasts and backs. A double coil of currency may consist of around 50-60,000 red feathers. Another man assembles the platelets from which the coils are composed. Using sap from a shrub as an adhesive he glues together grey pigeon feathers using a wooden gauge to check that each platelet is the correct size. A narrow strip of red feathers is then glued onto each platelet. The currency binder assembles the platelets using a fibre cord base. The platelets are overlapped so just the red feathers are visible. The finished piece may be decorated with strings of seeds, shells, and turtle-shell, and attached to a ring of bark. The value of a coil is dependent on its condition - newly made, vivid coloured examples are most valuable. The coils are wrapped in leaves and barkcloth for storage within a home.
G. Koch, Materielle Kultur der Santa Cr (Berlin, Museum für Völkerkunde, 1971)
J. Cribb, Money: from cowrie shells to c (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)
W. Davenport, 'Red-feather money', Scientific American, 206 (1962)